As the calendar turns to 2023, the Cleveland Guardians are looking to take a major leap forward in the upcoming season. The 2022 “Guardiac Kids” finished the season 92-70 and shocked the baseball world by winning the American League Central. The fairy tale ended in Yankee Stadium in a delayed game 5 ALDS loss to the experienced New York Yankees.
Heading into the offseason, the needs were apparent. This lineup needed more production from guys not named Jose Ramirez. To the surprise of many fans, Chris Antonetti went to work at the MLB Winter Meetings held in San Diego in early December. While fans were focused on Sean Murphy, the team and Josh Bell agreed to a two-year, $33 million contract, which certainly filled the need for a lefty mashing first baseman. The Guards may have missed out on Murphy, but they quickly pivoted and signed Mike Zunino to a one-year, $6 million contract. The two biggest needs were quickly filled in an average offseason that may be enough to satisfy the demands of fans. Not this year.
The surprising part of the offseason thus far has been the reluctancy of the front office to dangle any prospects from the loaded farm system in trade talks. Not many people would have guessed that free agency is the route the team would take to upgrade the major league roster. The good news is the biggest needs on the team has been filled by not needing to tap into the loaded farm system, which leaves endless options if the team wanted to upgrade the starting rotation or add a superstar outfielder, which could really catapult this team to the top of the entire league.
Realistically, it is likely the team will wait until the trade deadline to make any major moves in the trade market for a couple reasons:
It allows leadership to identify how much of last season was real. Regression will almost always factor in to the equation when discussing the youngest team in baseball.
Not many teams are truly rebuilding. With the extra playoff team in each league, agreed upon in the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement, more teams than usual are heading into the 2023 season believing they can contend. By July, a lot of these teams will prove to be pretenders, which will increase the number of players available and lower the prices of some of their players.
That does not have to stop fans from having fun and appreciating the hot stove aspect of baseball, which keeps the sport relevant in the long offseason dominated by football. I have generated five realistic trade scenarios that could make the 2023 Guardians World Series contenders.
Photo: Joe Sargent / Getty Images
**All of the below trade scenarios have been generated and approved by Baseball Trade Values.
Cleveland receives: Bryan Reynolds.
Pittsburgh receives: No. 3 overall prospect right-handed pitcher (RHP) Gavin Williams, No. 7 overall prospect outfielder Will Brennan, second baseman Tyler Freeman and RHP James Karinchak
This is not a surprise, as the Guardians have been a great fit for Bryan Reynolds going back to last offseason. Reynolds publicly requested a trade prior to the Winter Meetings, as he is looking to take his talents to a contending team. The asking price for Reynolds is understandably high, as he is under contract through the 2025 season. Last year, Reynolds batted .262 while hitting 27 home runs and 62 runs batted in (RBI's). This was considered a down year for Reynolds, who made the All-Star team in 2021 with a .302 average, 24 homers, 90 RBI's and 35 doubles.
He is currently in a lineup with no protection and would benefit greatly by being in the improved Guardians lineup. He is a proven star at the major league level, so the Pirates would most definitely want Brennan or George Valera back in the deal to replace him to go along with some pitching. Gavin Williams is the Guardians 2021 first-round draft pick with incredible stuff. He is flying through the Guardians system and could make his debut as early as 2023.
Cleveland receives: Bryan Reynolds and David Bednar
Pittsburgh receives: Will Brennan, Tyler Freeman James Karinchak and Guardians No. 1 overall prospect Daniel Espino
To sweeten the return for the Pirates, they could choose to add All-Star reliever David Bednar in a deal with Reynolds, which would help the Guardians even more by adding a successful reliever to an already elite bullpen. He would help ease the loss of erratic James Karinchak. A deal of that magnitude would almost certainly cost the Guards No. 1 overall prospect Daniel Espino, which may make Antonetti cringe. However, at some point, they are going to have to push their chips in and make their run. Prospect hoarding does not benefit anyone. The team could afford to lose one of their top pitching prospects in the right deal, as there is plenty of depth in the system.
Cleveland receives: Pablo Lopez
Miami receives: Left-handed pitcher (LHP) Logan Allen, shortstop Gabriel Arias, RHP Xzavion Curry, starting pitcher Zach Plesac and Will Brennan
Photo: Eric Espada / Getty Images
For the first time in a long time, the Guardians had some question marks surrounding the rotation last season. They are solid at the top with Shane Bieber and Triston McKenzie, but the back end of the rotation could use some work. Cal Quantrill, Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac are all high floor, low ceiling type of players. As a result, Quantrill had to start two games in the ALDS, which is not an ideal scenario. Lopez could slide in the No. 3 spot in the rotation and immediately be an upgrade.
Last season, Lopez had 10 wins with a 3.75 Earned Run Average (ERA). He had 174 strikeouts in 180 innings and was considered Miami's second best starter. He is not a free agent until 2025, which makes the price tag steep. The Marlins are desperate for outfield help, which makes the Guardians an ideal trade partner. If the Guardians want Lopez, they can get him no problem.
Cleveland receives: Jesus Luzardo
Miami receives: Gabriel Arias, Will Brennan, Xzavion Curry and Zach Plesac
If the Guardians and Marlins find they are ideal trade partners but cannot agree on a price for Lopez, then Jesus Luzardo also makes a ton of sense. Luzardo is under team control until 2026 and had similar stats to Lopez for the Marlins last season, including a better strikeout rate, as Luzardo finished with 120 "K's" in only 100 innings pitched. He also had a 3.32 ERA with a 1.04 Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched (WHIP). He would also slide right into the No. 3 spot in the Guardians rotation. With his estimated value being less than Lopez, the Guardians could remove Allen in a deal for Luzardo.
Cleveland receives: Outfielder Tyler O'Neill
St. Louis receives: Zach Plesac, Tyler Freeman and Xzavion Curry
Photo: David Richard / USA Today
It is no secret there are some questions about the maturity of Zach Plesac dating back to the 2020 incident where he and Mike Clevinger broke COVID protocol while the team was in Chicago. This was shortly after former Cleveland pitcher Carlos Carrasco finished cancer treatments. Since then, Plesac has broke his hand twice in self-inflicted incidents. It might be best for the two sides to mutually part ways.
If that is the case, I would love for the Guardians to add a couple players to the deal in order to get a major leaguer in return. Tyler O’Neill is the perfect bounce back candidate after a 2022 season where he never really got going. In 2021, O’Neill hit .286 with 34 home runs, and 80 RBI's. Fangraphs projects O’Neill to bounce back next season with a 117 wRC+ and 25 home runs. The strikeout rate is a bit of a concern (28%), but I believe hitting coach Chris Valaika can work his magic and cut that number down. If he is providing 25 home runs, the lineup can afford the uptick in strikeouts. Tyler Freeman is going to be a solid major leaguer, but I just do not see the available at bats for him in Cleveland.
None of these trades are perfect but all of them drastically improve the Guardians team. The goal in 2023 needs to be to advance further in the playoffs. All of the players listed above are under control until at least 2025, so these would be moves for now and the immediate future.
2023 was always circled as the year the Guardians could really make a run in the postseason. In order to do so, the organization needs to quit kicking the can down the road and decide which prospects are tradeable assets. The only question is will they make that decision now or wait until the trade deadline?
Buckle up folks, it is going to be a fun summer at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario!