When the Guardians lost a series to the Tigers in early August, I knew the book had closed on the 2023 season. When they lost three of four to the Angels in early September, I started planning their offseason moves in earnest. I’ll still enjoy these final games, but join me in taking an early look into what the Guardians Front Office needs to start working on when the calender flips to October.
Priority Level 1 - Adding at least two outside hitters to the lineup and being aggressive with promotions.
Our friend pezzicle has often linked to a great article from Ben Clemens of FanGraphs where Ben presents the average wOBA’s of an average offense in the American League in 2021. Those numbers go as follows:
2024 Projections based on Rest of Season ZiPS numbers and/or 2024 ZiPS projections run prior to the season:
1.Steven Kwan, LF - .318 wOBA
2. Taylor Ward or Teoscar Hernandez, RF - .340/.328
3. Jose Ramirez, 3B - .355 wOBA
4. Josh Naylor, 1B/DH - .339 wRC+
5. Kyle Manzardo, 1B/DH - .335 wOBA
6. Jung-hoo Lee, CF - .318 wOBA
7. Andres Gimenez, 2B - .316 wOBA
8. Bo Naylor, C - .301 wOBA
9. Gabriel Arias/Brayan Rocchio/Jose Tena/Juan Brito (who would move Gimenez to short), SS - .291 wOBA
Notably, the average .313 wOBA of the 2021 lineup lags behind the average .319 wOBA of the 2023 hitter. The average wOBA of the projected lineup above (with Ward) is .323 wOBA. (Thanks to CTC poster, SaladCzar, for the push for additional context).
I really don’t see a way that the Guardians can reasonably expect a league average offense without adding at least two hitters that have the potential to get to .320 wOBA. In the above scenario, I’ve still been ambitious hoping that Jung-hoo Lee not only can be signed to play in Cleveland but can be an above league-average hitter. I’ve been ambitious hoping that Kyle Manzardo is what his 2024 ZiPS projections said he’d be. If all those things happen and the rest of these Guardians play similarly to their 2023 rest of season projections, this is a slightly above average offense. I also think it’s reasonable to say that there would be some justification in hoping they can be more.
There are some other options out there if Lee isn’t interested in the balmy shores of Lake Erie of if Arte Moreno decides Taylor Ward is untouchable. If the Guardians really want to go all in on 2024 (perhaps as a push before Jose’s likely decline?), they could trade for Pete Alonso and Anthony Santander, who would both be rental players, but hitters who slug from the right-handed side of the plate (Santander is a switch-hitter but better from the right-side). That may require trading Manzardo in a separate deal so that Alonso can have a lineup spot, which could bring an amazing value in a pitching or hitting return depending on his destination.
Taylor Ward had a snake-bitten 2023, but he has proven offensive value and will be 29 years old. Teoscar Hernandez isn’t the kind of free agent who excites a fanbase, but he adds depth and security to a young team. Though he is 30 years old, his value against fastballs has been the highest of his career in 2023, an indicator that the bat speed is still there. Neither player is a great outfielder but both are adequate to handle a corner spot.
Perhaps the Guardians could offer up one of their young starting pitchers and get in conversations for players like Heston Kjerstad, Christopher Morel, Lars Nootbaar, or Randy Arozarena. Seeing as Tanner Bibee and Gavin Williams have ace potential, I’d guess this would revolve around a team believing in Logan Allen as a #3 and hankering after him and his sweeper. I don’t think a Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie or Cal Quantrill trade is going to fetch a particularly helpful return this offseason, so I’d like to see all three stay in Cleveland for the time being. Overall, my preference would be to try to add without taking away from the strength of the Guardians’ major league-ready pitching.
Notably, the lineup I’ve listed above would allow the team to consider carrying players like Ramon Laureano, Brayan Rocchio, Tyler Freeman, George Valera, Jhonkensy Noel, Jonathan Rodriguez, Juan Brito, Jose Tena and David Fry as bench bats rather than relying on those players to contribute as above-average major leaguers on an everyday basis.
Priority Level 2 - Adding a reliable relief arm
I hope that Chris Antonetti, Mike Chernoff and James Harris are taking Reynaldo Lopez out to dinner every night he is in Cleveland. He’d single-handedly stabilize the Guardians’ bullpen if he could be signed at the end of the season. But, I suspect someone will give him closer money. There are some other interesting arms the team could target as comeback candidates, (Dylan Floro or Joe Jimenez, for example) but Lopez is by far the best of the feasible candidates.
I suspect Cleveland will stick with their collection of relievers and look for Michael Kelly types on the waiver wires, but it would be worth it to spend a little money to add one more weapon to that pen, making arms like Franco Aleman, Cade Smith, James Karinchak and Xzavion Curry depth instead of part of the new manager’s circle of trust.
Priority Level 3 - Adding a depth starting pitcher
You pick your starter looking for a bounceback pillow deal - Tyler Mahle, Lucas Giolito, Jack Flaherty, Frankie Montas, or Jordan Montgomery come to mind - and I’d enjoy seeing the Guardians pursue one of these pitchers to help lengthen their rotation with Shane Bieber and Triston McKenzie both trying to dodge elbow issues.
I don’t think this particular move is likely, but I think 2023 should demonstrate the absolute veracity of the bromide: “You can never have too much pitching.”
Priority Level: Different - Hire the right manager
We need someone who can connect with a young roster and hold players accountable. We need someone who embraces analytics yet can communicate well with players, media and fans. We need someone who can replace a hall of famer without getting emotionally beaten down when the team has a cold stretch. I think there are a fair amount of names out there who potentially fit these needs, but it’ll be a challenge to sort through them all and choose the right one.
Good luck, Guardians Front Office.