For a time it appeared we would not make it, but Major League Baseball broke the union and will play baseball in 2022. For Cleveland it was a crucial offseason showcasing a rebrand over a century in the making which provided an opportunity for Paul Dolan to put his best foot forward and re-energize an apathetic fanbase. Needless to say the offseason, until the last day, played out quite differently than most expected. The newly minted Guardians did not reshape the roster, avoided selling off their few remaining costly veteran assets, and chose to largely stand pat. As such the roster remains a relative muddled mess entering the 2022 season.
(This section is intentionally left blank)
The Joy of Jose Ramirez
After basically accomplishing nothing the entire offseason the Guardians shocked all of us when they announced a pair of extensions. The first for Emmanuel Clase fits the John Hart mold of locking young players up before they reach arbitration and likely pays dividends over the course of the next five years. More importantly: Jose Ramriez agreed to a five year extension past the 2023 season.
I thought the odds of an extension were slim to none, especially after their silent offseason where the only move which brought in an outside player was signing Luke Maile to a "Major League contract" (which you only specify when it’s shocking you signed the player to anything but a minor league contract). I was convinced Paul Dolan would not spend the money on a club friendly deal: I was wrong. The Jose Ramirez extension is such a stunning and happy turn of events I have not stopped smiling since I saw the news yesterday morning.
I have already written many thoughts on Jose, but to add a little more: Jose is likely the best player to don a Cleveland uniform since at least Jim Thome. While it may be slightly hyperbolic to suggest this signing changes the franchise, it is not hyperbole to say this signing transforms the outlook for the team past 2023. For years fans simply waited for star players to leave the franchise either by trade or in free agency and instead of wondering whether Jose Ramirez will play in Toronto after months of rumors we can simply enjoy Jose’s wonderful play in Cleveland for years to come.
From a baseball perspective the deal also cements the offense and the infield over the next seven seasons. I do not think this team could realistically compete in 2023 and beyond had they traded Jose, but locking him off provides a foundation on which to build your offense and your team. Instead of hoping another prospect can replace Jose at third base: we can now shift focus to other positions and perhaps leverage our prospects to acquire players at other positions (catcher, first base maybe?) instead of trying to find a young player everywhere. It’s without question the most surprising and exciting baseball news Cleveland received since at least 2017 either when they won 22 games in a row, or signed Edwin Encarnacion to a three year, $60M contract.
Kudos to the Dolans, and more importantly thank you to Jose for choosing us: I cannot wait to don a Jose Ramirez uniform for many years to come.
State of the Roster
The roster has changed significantly since 2018, and there’s a lot to review. Taking the roster piece by piece:
The strength of the team, per tradition, is the starting rotation. Anchored by Cy Young winner Shane Bieber: Cleveland should boast plenty of solid starters to stymie hitters throughout the season. It should be noted this group is perhaps the weakest iteration of a Cleveland rotation since at least 2014. This is only one metric (but since the season just started a decent one) but Fangraphs ranked the Cleveland rotation 19th in baseball entering the season. Here are our rankings the past several seasons:
Now I do not believe our starting rotation is below average and that we’ll rank in the bottom third of baseball. This rotation is young, unproven, and certainly not as strong as it was from 2015-19 when we boasted Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. I’m not sure how to rank the rest of the rotation so I will go in my preferred order: Aaron Civale, Triston McKenzie, Cal Quantrill and Zach Plesac. By season’s end any of those four could slot behind Bieber.
Emmanuel Clase, fresh off a shiny extension, will anchor the bullpen. He’s managed to reduce his walks (which I am pleased to have been wrong about) and if he keeps this up could become the next Aroldis Chapman.
There’s….not much behind him. Bryan Shaw is…durable and likely gets way more opportunities to prove his continued mediocrity as he ages. James Karinchak will get another shot, along with Anthony Gose both of whom are fine options to try out for 2022. After them: Trevor Stephan, Nick Sandlin, Konnor Plinkington, Logan Allen, Eli Morgan and Sam Hentges will all attempt to prove they belong in a big league bullpen.
I will be honest, I think we are quite weak at catcher. Austin Hedges is a terrific defensive backstop when healthy, but his bat is anemic. With a career OPS+ of 60 his bat is far more likely to end one of the most important games in recent team history than actually provide any value. Luke Maile is a perfectly fine backup, but is injured, which leaves us with Bryan Lavastida. Lavastida is young at the tender age of 23, and made it to AAA last season which I believe is surprising. Overall I do not expect even average production out of the catcher position this season. If we are in contention I hope we consider a trade given the downright hideous offensive profile of Hedges.
Infield & DH
Jose Ramirez is the best third baseman in baseball. He was robbed for his fourth Silver Slugger, is a great defender and an excellent baserunner. Every team would be improved with his presence. The rest of the infield is a mixture of unproven to weak.
Bobby Bradley gets the first crack at first, and at 26 he’s running out of time to impress at the big league level. Early returns are poor: he managed a mere 99 OPS+ last season and that was buoyed by a strong start to the season and he petered off. Josh Naylor likely gets the next crack once he’s healthy, granted his season was no better before he suffered his horrific injury in the outfield.
Yu Chang, another middling performer, will get the first crack at second. Chang received several cups of coffee at the big league level, but few stints which lasted for any length of time. His career OPS+ is 75, and a measly 83 last year. After Chang we have Andres Gimenez and Owen Miller, who both made the roster. I am not entirely sure who will get the next crack at the position. If it were me: I would play Gimenez before Chang and give Chang the opportunity to prove he can be a versatile utility infielder as I do not see much upside although I certainly hope I am wrong. Miller would be next, granted I was not thrilled with his OPS+ 50 offensive (and by that I mean it was miserable to watch him bat) performance in 2021.
Amed Rosario is starting the first game in left field, so I am assuming all the early offseason bluster about Amed being our starting shortstop may have been abandoned? If so it’s possible Gimenez gets the first crack at short which is just as well: if he performs then perhaps Arias can become a trade chip to bolster other areas on the roster.
Franmil Reyes will be the full time DH: and I will admit he’s hit better than I thought. He’s easily the second best hitter in the lineup and he might even near 40 homers this season. That would be awesome! Nobody has done that since Travis Hafner getting frighteningly close to two decades ago.
Myles Straw will start in center and is a great baserunner and defender; likely the best regular outfielder we have played since Michael Brantley left after the 2018 season. I expect him to receive the bulk of the playing time unless he falters in which case I assume Bradley Zimmer will take his place (otherwise why is he on the roster and paid more than the minimum)?
Steven Kwan gets the first start in right, and I am praying they keep him there until he proves he hits or struggles so much he is sent back down for seasoning. Amed Rosario gets first crack at left, and I am sure will fill in somewhere else if everyone falters.
Oscar Mercado is also on the roster, I am assuming in a utility role: we shall see how long he lasts.
This roster is young and is going to take a lot of sorting through as we continue through the year. Zack Meisel suggested the season will feel like an extended Spring Training and I suspect he will be right. God willing a few players will find a place and stick so we can enter 2023 with a firmer grasp on the roster.
Projections for 2022 Season
The short version is the season will likely end in October and not continue into the postseason despite Major League Baseball expanding the playoffs. Fangraphs released their predictions and nobody picked Cleveland to even get the third Wild Card, the only team in the AL Central to not receive a single vote. The AL Central is not as weak as it was when we dominated the division either from 2016-2018 or in the 1990s; it will take work to bring this club up to fighting weight.
Personally I do not think the Guardians are terrible, I suspect a record somewhere north of 75 wins, but probably not more than 82. A mediocre team whose main strength, the starting rotation, has atrophied from its peak without improving our biggest weaknesses (the outfield, first base). My guess is the team will finish fourth behind: Chicago, Minnesota and Detroit. I think Kansas City is overrated personally, but we shall see.
My biggest hope is the team locks up more players either pre-arb or in their first year of arbitration. It is not normal for Cleveland to approach players about extensions during the season, although it’s not completely unheard of: Travis Hafner signed during the season. But when I examined the offseason back in November my prediction was the team would approach Aaron Civale, Franmil Reyes and perhaps Quantrill & Plesac about extensions. I would approach them again and see if they can make it happen.
Happy Opening Day everyone!
The Cleveland Guardians signed Myles Straw to a five year extension with options. Its possible they aren't done and if they start signing more players to extensions it changes my view of the off season making it more of n success.