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The Cleveland Guardians were arguably THE surprise in MLB in 2022, not only by making the playoffs, but they also won the AL Central when they were predicted to finish near the bottom in the division. The Guardians were the youngest team in not only the majors, but also AAA throughout the 2022 campaign, which is why they were doubted heavily throughout the MLB landscape, though they had a great young nucleus to build upon. Yet, despite the perception around baseball about the Guardians, they won 92 regular season games and took the Bronx Bombers to the limit in the ALDS, coming within one game of knocking out the Yankees and going to the ALCS.
After shocking many baseball fans, what moves can the Guardians make to be even better in 2023? I believe there are three moves the Guardians must make (outside of signing first baseman Josh Bell) to realistically compete with the Yankees and Houston Astros (who added to their already star-driven lineup with the addition of Jose Abreu) in the American League in 2023.
1. The first position to address was Cleveland's biggest weakness in 2022: Catcher. Collectively between Austin Hedges and Luke Maile (who signed with the Reds in free agency), the Guardians catchers hit well under .200 with practically zero power last season. If this team wants to continue winning the AL Central and get past teams like the Yankees and Astros, they must have a lineup that's capable of doing damage at any time. The best solution is acquiring Sean Murphy from the Oakland Athletics.
Murphy is a young catcher that is under team control until 2026. He isn't an elite hitter, but he should hit near the league average while offering more power at the dish. He's hit 35 homers in his previous two seasons.
Murphy is the perfect fit for the future of the Guardians in my opinion. All nice things come with a price, and Murphy's tag is high. A package of Brayan Rocchio, Tanner Bibee, Logan Allen and Will Brennan should get the deal done. Sean Murphy is worth dishing out three Top 10 prospects.
2. Shane Bieber and Tristan McKenzie form a knockout one-two punch, but the starting rotation could use an upgrade. Cleveland has plenty of depth, but they need a good No. 3 starter. Signing Noah Syndergaard to around a four-year, $56 million deal will give this roster three pitchers that can go head-to-head with any team in the postseason. Syndergaard seems to have lost a little velocity, but he still managed a sub 4.00 ERA (between the Angles and Phillies in 2022. I do expect a tick up in velocity in 2023 with Syndergaard being two years removed Tommy John surgery.
3. The third and final thing I'd like the Guardians to do is take care of one of their own and extend McKenzie. McKenzie is a valuable piece to Cleveland's rotation and took a major step in 2022, looking like the future ace of this iteration of the Guards. Young players across the majors have been locked up to long term deals such as Wander Franco for the Tampa Bay Rays, and Cleveland would be wise to lock up the 24-year-old to be McKenzie, who gets more expensive.
McKenzie has several years before free agency, but he'd still hit the market at a young 28 years of age, and if he continues putting up impressive numbers, he could potentially price himself out of Cleveland. A deal in the ballpark of eight years, $120 million should keep him in The Land.