Assessing 2023 MLB front offices: The Antonetti-Chernoff Cleveland Guardians made some wrong moves

Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff are a veteran tandem running the Cleveland Guardians front office. However, they had an unusually unproductive 2023 season that ended up hurting their team.
Cleveland Indians general manager Mike Chernoff
Cleveland Indians general manager Mike Chernoff / Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Antonetti/Mike Chernoff front office WAA impact on Cleveland Guardians: -4.2 games. Rank in MLB: 21. Rank in division: 5.

Coming off a surprisingly AL Central title in 2022, the Guardians somehow managed to avoid being installed as favorites when this season began. With that, they avoided the curse of high expectations.

Yet given that 2022 division championship, the team’s 76-86 record and third-place finish in the AL Central was still unimpressive. Five games behind by early August, they played .427 ball the final two months, virtually ensuring that they will once again not be burdened by expectations in 2024.

It goes without saying that injuries were a problem. Over 162 games, that’s a given. In Cleveland’s case, the big injury took down pitcher Triston McKenzie, who made 30 starts last season but went 0-3 in just four appearances, two of them in late September when the team’s fate was sealed.

The veteran Cleveland front office reacted relatively listlessly to the ennui that seemed to surround the club’s spring and summer. Team president Chris Antonetti and general manager Mike Chernoff made 46 moves impacting a major league roster since the conclusion of the 2022 postseason, but only 14 of those 43 positively impacted the Guardians.

A healthy 29 of those 43 produced a negative impact; the final three were neutral.

As measured by Wins Above Average (WAA), the net impact of those moves on Guardians' 2023 fortunes amounted to -4.2 games.

WAA is used in this series of front office evaluations because it is a zero-based version of WAR, therefore enabling valid approximations of impact against wins and losses.

There were positives. The April promotion of system product Tanner Bibee in response to McKenzie’s ailments was a boon that promises to deliver additional dividends in ensuing seasons. Bibee, 10-4 in 25 starts, assumed a front-line rotation role and finished with a 2.98 ERA that worked out to +2.3 WAA.

If the Cleveland farm system was full of Tanner Bibees, the Guardians would still be playing.

It wasn’t. Antonetti and Chernoff called on a healthy 16 system products at one point or another this past season, but only four produced positive impacts. That’s not surprising (there’s a reason why minor leaguers aren’t major leaguers), but even accounting for Bibee’s work the net impact of those kids lingered at -1.0 WAA.

The fairly ordinary work done by Antonetti and Chernoff in responding to the team’s troubles is a bit surprising given their experience in working as a cohesive front office team. The Guardians’ management structure is unchanged since the end of the 2015 season, giving Antonetti and Chernoff five postseason appearances highlighted by that narrow 2016 World Series loss to the Cubs.

The first seven of those seasons were productive enough that despite the collective 2023 downturn, Antonetti and Chernoff can still boast of having improved Guardians’ personnel by 8.6 games, or better than one game per season.

Here’s the short-term and long-term statistical profile on the 2023 performance of Cleveland’s Antonetti-Chernoff leadership team. All figures reflect Wins Above Average.

Acquired by trade, waiver claim or purchase

  • Since October 2022: 7 players, -1.4 net impact
  • Prior to October 2023:  7 players, +0.8 net impact

Signed as a free agent or extended for multiple seasons

  • Since October 2022: 8 players, -4.8 net impact
  • Prior to October 2022: 2 players, +3.5 net impact

System products

  • Since October 2022: 16 players, -1.0 net impact
  • Prior to October 2022: 10 players, +0.8 net impact

Traded away, waived, sold, released or lost to free agency

  • Since October 2022: 10 players, +2.8 net impact
  • Prior to October 2022: 26 players, -2.2 net impact

Statistically, the 2023 Guardians got some help from their returning core of players, 19 of whom were under 2023 team control prior to the end of last season. Their collective contribution, what I call the long-term impact, amounted to +2.9 games.

But that figure was very much a mixed bag. In fact, the Guardians counted on their roster four returnees (second baseman Andres Gimenez, third baseman Jose Ramirez, outfielder Steven Kwan and pitcher Aaron Civale) who each generated quality results. Collectively, those four generated +9.7 WAA for their team.

That ought to have been a strong enough core production to put a defending champ in contending position. The problem was that most of the other 15 holdovers tanked. The collective impact of those other 15 (guys like outfielders Oscar Gonzalez and Myles Straw, shortstop Amed Rosario, and pitchers Cal Quantrill and Zac Plesac) worked out to -6.8 WAA.

What we have in Cleveland, then, is a team working on just a half-dozen or so of 26 cylinders and a front office unable or unwilling to respond to the interminable succession of hurdles that presented.

That’s how you wind up in third place, which is where the Guardians finished.