Cleveland Guardians’ 2023 Postseason Review

02 Oct

The 2023 baseball season was a major disappointment for the Cleveland Guardians for a couple of reasons:

1) they regressed from 2022, a season in which they won the AL Central crown, won a wild card series and took the mighty New York Yankees to the brink in the divisional round. Instead, they finished 10 games below .500 and in third place in the weakest division in baseball.

2) It marked the end of an era with the retirement of future Hall of Fame manager Terry Francona.


Here is our postseason review, position by position, of the 2023 season and a look at the promise that next season holds:


Front Office/Manager/Coaches


The club’s front office had a dismal record in free agency during the last off-season. Their 2 major acquisitions, catcher Mike Zunino and first baseman /Josh Bell, were utter failures. Zunino was a disaster at the plate and not very good defensively, to the point that he was released. Bell never supplied the power that Mike Chernoff and Chris Antonetti hoped for, and was dealt to Miami at the trade deadline. It was a disappointing finish for Francona but the hand he was dealt, between front office miscues and starting rotation injuries, was too much to overcome. Pitching coach Carl Willis did his usual great job handling the rookie replacement starters, but the bullpen was inconsistent all year long. There was regression among the hitters also, so the status of hitting coach Chris Valaika could be in doubt. Of course, with Francona retiring, the whole coaching staff could be different in 2024 with a new skipper in charge.


Starting Pitchers


Injuries caused the Guardians’ starting rotation to be in flux all season in 2023. Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie and Cal Quantrill all missed significant time and forced the team to insert a trio of rookies into service as starters before they had expected to. Zach Plesac was a major disappointment also and was eventually farmed out. Then at the trade deadline management dealt the last man standing, Aaron Civale, to Tampa and not coincidentally the season cratered into oblivion from that point on. Of the 3 rookies, Tanner Bibee looks to have some bulldog in him and could be a future ace of the staff. Gavin Williams and southpaw Logan Allen both showed promise and will be contenders to stay in the rotation next season. The one problem with the use of the rookies is that their innings were limited, which led to the bullpen being overtaxed. Blown leads by the bullpen were a major factor in many of the club’s losses. Experiments with veterans Noah Syndergaard and Lucas Giolito also failed, with Syndergaard being DFA’d and Giolito not expected back. Hunter Gaddis and Cody Morris came up from AAA Columbus to provide emergency starts, and although they’re still young, neither raised any eyebrows. The return of McKenzie and Quantrill will bolster the rotation next year, but one major story to watch will be what is done with Bieber. With a year left on his contract, will he return or be traded to obtain a much needed power bat?




Cleveland’s bullpen, considered a strength of the team, was an enigma all year. A good example – closer Emanuel Clase led the major leagues in both saves and blown saves. He was probably overused and given proper usage next year he should return to dominant form. The rest of the bullpen was a roller coaster ride. Eighth inning reliever Trevor Stephan was given a new contract, then proceeded to be a major disappointment and one of the clubhouse leaders in surrendering leads in the late innings. Nervous Nellie James Karinchak imploded to the point where he was sent to AAA Columbus for a stretch. The same fate happened to lefty Tim Herrin. Eli Morgan’s season ranged from great outings to terrible ones, and to a lesser degree the same could be said for Enyel De Los Santos and Nick Sandlin. Michael Kelly and Daniel Norris were stopgap players thrust into action to eat up early to middle innings. There were some bright spots in the pen – southpaw Sam Hentges was lights out all year. Xzavion Curry was a Swiss Army knife, providing good long relief as well as quality spot starts. Reynaldo Lopez, a late season waiver acquisition, was a revelation. An impending free agent, the powers that be should focus on trying to bring him back. All in all, a big project of the front office and new manager will be to sort out all the arms in the pen to piece together a relief staff that once again is a strength of the club.




Until rising star Bo Naylor was called up from Columbus, this position was a disaster. Mike Zunino may have been the worst free agent signing ever. He offered nothing defensively or at the plate. Another vet, Cam Gallagher, was a bit better defensively but anemic with the bat. One player on the roster whose value is high is David Fry. Any time you have a guy who can play multiple positions, and one of those positions is behind the plate, you have to value him highly. Fry also provides some pop with the bat. Naylor is obviously the future starter here, and management will need to decide if Fry alone is enough backup (which frees up roster space for another position) or if another catcher has to be added, assuming Gallagher won’t be back.




The Guardians are solid at the corner infield positions with first baseman Josh Naylor and third sacker Jose Ramirez. Naylor is the best clutch hitter and RBI man on the team, while Ramirez, a Cleveland icon, is one of MLB’s top players. Although he went through an up and down year, second baseman Andres Giminez regained his bearings late in the season and was one of the team’s hottest hitters. He needs to carry that momentum into a big year in 2024. Tyler Freeman is a valuable and versatile piece of the roster. He can play anywhere in the infield and has an uncanny ability to provide some offensive punch when he gets his chances to play. Amed Rosario was the starting shortstop until he was dealt to the Dodgers at the deadline, and his questionable defense should mean that this position is upgraded next year, no matter who wins the job. The Guardians’ organization is loaded with top middle infield prospects, and the players who shared the spot after Rosario departed – Gabriel Arias, Brayan Rocchio and Jose Tena – all showed flashes. Arias is great with the glove and his 10 home runs in limited playing time showed that he can provide some power. Rocchio is still raw but he might be the best all around prospect of the group, while Tena made the jump from AA Akron to the big club, so that has to mean the organization is high on him. There are other top gems lurking at the lower levels, but we’ll discuss them in the “future prospects” section.




Cleveland’s starting outfield trio most of the year was Steven Kwan in left, Myles Straw in center and Will Brennan in right. Kwan and Straw are Gold Glove fielders, and Brennan is right behind them with the glove. However, there is a glaring lack of power in the Tribe’s outfield, and that has to be addressed in 2024. Oscar Gonzalez, a postseason hero in 2022, regressed terribly this year and wound up in Columbus. He was the 2023 version of Bobby Bradley, who looked like a great power hitting first base prospect and is now playing somewhere in an independent minor league. Brennan is pretty good with the bat and looks like he could get stronger and increase his power numbers, but until he actually does it might be a better plan to platoon him. Kwan is a fixture and a great leadoff hitter. One option could be to move him to centerfield and use Straw as a bench player and late inning defensive replacement. Decisions will have to be made on a couple of veterans who were picked up in-season and saw lots of playing time. Ramon Laureano would be a good addition to the bench, while left-hand hitting Kole Calhoun is more suited to being strictly a designated hitter and likely won’t be back.


Future Prospects


There are 3 potential future starting pitchers in Cleveland’s pipeline that might debut in 2024 – Daniel Espino, Tanner Burns and Joey Cantillo. Espino has regularly been rated the club’s top prospect, but injuries have derailed his progress. Burns must overcome control issues if he is to succeed. Cantillo, if and when he arrives, would be a much needed lefthand option to the rotation. The up and coming outfielder in the system who might be a power upgrade is George Valera, who will be given every opportunity to advance to the majors from Columbus next spring.  Johnathan Rodriguez is a power bat who has hit consistently at every level of the minors so far. Further down the pipeline of OF prospects are recent top draft picks Chase Delauter and Jaison Chourio. When Civale was traded, the player obtained was lefthand hitting first baseman/DH Kyle Manzardo. He seems destined to be on the 2024 roster also in some capacity. A plethora of middle infielders dot the minor league pipeline. Juan Brito, obtained from Colorado for Nolan Jones in a controversial deal, appears to be a viable major leaguer. Switch-hitting Angel Martinez is only 21 and a rising star, while Jhonkensy Noel might be the future heir apparent to Ramirez at the hot corner. Khalil Watson was obtained from Miami at the deadline and is also considered a possible future star. This year’s top draftee, Ralphy Velazquez, joins Bryan Lavastida as future catching options.


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.