MLB Team Roundup: Cleveland Guardians

·4 min read

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Cleveland Guardians

2021 Record: 80-82
2nd place, AL Central
Team ERA: 4.34 (18th in MLB)
Team OPS: .710 (21st in MLB)

What Went Right

Jose Ramirez was again one of the league’s best players and could finish in the top five in the AL MVP balloting for the fourth time in five years. Cal Quantrill busted out with a 3.12 ERA in 22 starts after failing to secure a rotation spot in spring training. Emmanuel Clase emerged as one of the game’s best young relievers, leading the bullpen to a 3.64 ERA that ranked sixth in MLB. Franmil Reyes hit 30 homers despite missing a quarter of the season, and Myles Straw proved to be a solution in center field after being acquired from the Astros in exchange for Phil Maton.

What Went Wrong

2020 AL Cy Young winner Shane Bieber missed half of the season with a shoulder strain. Zach Plesac regressed badly after his 2020 breakthrough, with his strikeout rate dropping from 28% to 17%. Bullpen co-anchor James Karinchak lost it after the sticky stuff crackdown and finished the season in the minors. Besides Ramirez and Reyes, none of the players who spent the entire year on the team finished with a 100 OPS+. Andres Gimenez, one of the two major leaguers acquired from the Mets in the Francisco Lindor-Carlos Carrasco trade, was particularly disappointing, hitting .218/.282/.351 in 210 plate appearances.

Fantasy Slants

** The Guardians might not be able to afford to trade from their rotation this winter, as they’ve done so often in the recent past, but they’re in pretty good shape for 2022 with Bieber, Aaron Civale, Triston McKenzie, Quantrill and Plesac likely to make up the top five. The 24-year-old McKenzie seems like next year’s breakthrough candidate; he pitched his way to the minors in May, but after rejoining the rotation in July, he had a 4.17 ERA and a 77/19 K/BB ratio in 77 2/3 innings. The other four will all pitch next season at age 27.

** Reyes missed six weeks with a strained oblique in the first half, so his 30 homers and 85 RBI came in 115 games. Disappointing was that he finished with the highest strikeout rate of his career at 32% after coming in at 28-29% in each of his first three seasons. It seems like something of a fluke, though, given that his contact rate was better than his career norm. He’s still just 26 and likely hasn’t peaked yet; he’s one of the better bets in the league to hit 40 homers next year.

** Straw went from hitting .262/.339/.326 in 98 games for the Astros to .285/.362/.377 in 60 games for Cleveland. He also stole 30 bases along the way and played excellent defense in center field. Playing time won’t be an issue next year, and if he holds on to the leadoff gig for the Guardians, he could be a top-30 fantasy outfielder because of the steals.

** The lineup includes one of the game’s top all-around performers in Ramirez, a home run title contender in Reyes and perhaps even a steal crown candidate in Straw, but there isn’t much certainty otherwise. Amed Rosario will be in there somewhere, but while he played a better shortstop for the Indians than he did for the Mets, he could be more valuable at another position. John Naylor, who was playing right field before suffering a catastrophic leg injury in June, is likely to move to first base, which is where he should have been playing all along. The Indians would surely love to see him take a step forward, but at this point, they should make him compete for a job.

** As per usual, the Guardians badly need outfield help. Straw will have the everyday gig in center, but the other spots are up for grabs after no one from the group of Bradley Zimmer, Oscar Mercado, Daniel Johnson and Harold Ramirez made a strong case for a spot in next year’s lineup. Assistance is on the way in the form of Nolan Jones and George Valera, though Jones still could wind up at third if Ramirez is eventually traded. Valera hit .260/.405/.505 between high-A and Double-A as a 20-year-old this season.

Key Free Agents: Roberto Perez*, Bryan Shaw, Blake Parker

Perez’s contract includes a $7 million option that seems likely to be bought out for $450,000.

Team Needs: The Guardians have two stars left, and both Ramirez and Bieber are inexpensive enough that there’s no justification for trading either at the moment. Still, with the team pretty much treading water -- and the AL Central cellar dwellers showing obvious signs of improvement -- it’s possible the team could consider bottoming out next summer if things don’t go well early on. First, though, the Guardians will again attempt to patch over the holes in the offense with a couple of outfielders and maybe a middle infielder. They could also let Perez go and sign a more offensive-minded catcher to pair with Austin Hedges.

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