The Cleveland Guardians were quite the story in 2022. Cleveland owned the youngest team in all of Major League Baseball last season, yet were able to outlast the White Sox and Twins to win the AL Central title. Heading into 2023, the Guardians will looks to build on that strong campaign and will do so with some new faces in Cleveland.
Related: 2022-23 MLB Offseason Recap: Colorado Rockies
- 1B/DH Josh Bell
- C Mike Zunino
Despite being an elite contact team in 2022, Cleveland ranked 15th in the league in total runs scored (698). The Guardians will hope that first baseman and 2022 NL Silver Slugger Josh Bell will help in that regard. The ex-National — who we ranked as one of our favorite under-the-radar pickups — torched NL hitters for much of the 2022 season. In Washington, the power-hitting Bell posted a top-20 OPS (.877) and clubbed 41 extra base hits in 103 games. The 30-year-old struggled badly in San Diego, but Bell has proven to be a very valuable hitter thanks to his natural power and above-average plate discipline.
Speaking of power, very few in baseball can match the pure strength and natural pop of new Guardians catcher Mike Zunino. Over the last three seasons, just four players in MLB had a higher HR% (7.04%) than Zunino (min. 550 PA). On the other hand, the catcher’s .194 average over that time, along with a 37.0% K% — a figure that ranked as the third-worst behind Brett Phillips (38.5%) and Keston Hiura (38.5%) — paint a picture of what kind of hitter Zunino is at the dish. Still, the former Rays catcher’s power, defense, and ability to draw walks should be welcome in northern Ohio.
- C Austin Hedges
- C Luke Maile
- SS Owen Miller
The Guardians didn’t have many players head to free agency after 2022. The only notable names that exited were catchers Austin Hedges and Luke Maile. Owen Miller, meanwhile, was dealt to Milwaukee earlier in the winter.
Hedges and Miller didn’t produce much in terms of offense in Cleveland — the two ranked among the eleven worst players in the league in terms of OPS from 2020-22 (min. 600 PA). Hedges’ .510 OPS in that span was, in fact, the worst figure in all of baseball. With Zunino and Bryan Lavastida set as the 1-2 in Cleveland, it did make sense for the Guardians to part ways with both Hedges and Luke Maile.
The Guardians were already positioned well entering the 2023 season, thanks to a young, controllable squad. Cleveland possesses a solid rotation led by Shane Bieber and Triston McKenzie, a fantastic rotation, and a group of hitters that can be incredible tough to retire. The defending AL Central champs didn’t need to have a major offseason, but instead plug holes.
The addition of Bell should insulate a very solid middle-of-the-lineup that includes Josh Naylor and star infielder José Ramirez, while Zunino will look to provide stability behind the plate. It won’t be easy for the Guardians to repeat as AL Central champions in 2023, but Cleveland remains in a good position to do so.