Owner: Lawrence J. Dolan, worth $4.6 billion
World Series Titles: 1920, 1948
Greatest Player: 2B Nap Lajoie
Division: AL Central
Payroll: 24th, $91,000,000
2022 Result: 92-70, 1st place in AL Central, lost to Yankees in ALDS, 3-2
General Manager: Mike Chernoff
Manager: Terry Francona, 63; Record: 1874-1586, 2 World Series Titles
Home Field: Progressive Field, Capacity: 35,041
Key Addition: 1B Josh Bell. Frequently, the demise of small market teams comes in the power department, when expensive sluggers are (claimed to be) out of reach. Bell is the Cleveland Guardians’ attempt at mitigating this risk. He’ll likely take on the responsibility of the DH, giving protection to the likes of José Ramírez and Steven Kwan. Bell is the most expensive free agent Cleveland brought in and likely the most pivotal to their playoff chances.
Key Loss: C Austin Hedges. The loss of Hedges might not mean a ton offensively, given the lack of production, but there’s a reason he keeps finding opportunities. Hedges is the best defensive catcher in baseball. His familiarity and work with young and veteran pitchers alike is well-known. They’ve turned to Mike Zunino, who struggled just as much offensively, without as elite of a defensive profile. There’s a decent chance the catcher spot becomes a legitimate weakness for this club.
Key Injury: SP Daniel Espino. Cleveland have had good injury luck early this spring, as no Major Leaguers entered camp with Opening Day in doubt. In turn, their most important injury comes from the farm. Espino amazed scouts on his way up various prospect rankings until knee and shoulder injuries derailed his season. Now, he’s facing an additional strength that severely hurts his chances of pitching in the big leagues this year. If he is healthy enough to get back on track, few would be surprised to see him end up making an impact.
Prospect Alert: OF George Valera. I’m not overly confident in the back half of the Guardians’ lineup, particularly in the outfield. If Myles Straw’s defensive output doesn’t compensate for his lack of offense, or Oscar Gonzalez experiences a sophomore year slump, outfield reinforcements may be on the way. Valera’s power output is expected to rise in 2023, and his defense and speed can already play.
Scouting Report: Cleveland seems to be in-line for another typical Cleveland-esque season. They’ll lean on the few superstars they have under contract, surround them with versatile, complementary talents, and pray that their lack of spending doesn’t bite them in the ass. Further, their coaching staff has routinely shaped their pitching staff into one of the best in the league.
Of course, this is highlighted by Shane Bieber and, now, Triston McKenzie. The rest of the rotation is made of high-floor arms. In the bullpen, Emmanuel Clase has blossomed into one of the league’s elite high-leverage relievers, boasting a triple-digit cutter. If James Karinchak can continue to hide sticky stuff in his mane, he’ll be productive late in games, too.
Elsewhere, the bat-to-ball skills atop this lineup have me falling in love. Kwan is at the end of the bell curve for making contact. Andrés Giménez and the aforementioned Ramírez aren’t far behind. They combine to formulate one of the most exciting top of the orders in MLB, even if it isn’t the most dynamic. There’s reason to be optimistic for many other Guardians as well. Amed Rosario has continued to improve as he’s grown comfortable on a Major League field. Bell, Gonzalez, and Josh Naylor are capable of power surges that could carry Cleveland to a division title.
Even with the risks that come with a bottom-third payroll, the range of outcomes for this Guardians team don’t feel particularly high variance. Nobody sees this team winning 95+ games, and falling under .500 would be similarly out of bounds.
Over/Under Wins: 90-72, 1st place in AL Central, lose in AL Wildcard Round
BetBasics Best Bet: I’ve found myself tempted to place a couple of futures with the Guardians in mind. The playoffs is too much of a crapshoot to truly project with much confidence, but a couple of opportunities present themselves for the days prior to October.
First, this is a two-team race for the AL Central, and the odds don’t reflect it. The Chicago White Sox scare me in the worst way possible, given those making the decisions, the lack of depth, and poor prospect reinforcements. I expect them to fall out of it, leaving only the Minnesota Twins to compete. From there, Cleveland is given +135 odds at DraftKings to win the division, meaning a $100 bet could win $135.
Second, their regular season win line may be doing us a little favor. At 86.5 (with -115 odds on the over and -105 on the under), the bar isn’t very high. In a division with two teams racing to top of Tankathon, racking up wins against bad teams shouldn’t be too difficult. Throw in a White Sox team currently being overvalued and that line becomes even more reasonable. I don’t expect them to blow it out of the water, but I’m comfortable taking the over on this one.