The Cleveland Indians, known as the Guardians moving forward, had their worst season since Terry Francona took over as manager in 2013, going 80-82. The offense was the main culprit Cleveland finished under .500. They became the first team in major league history to be no-hit three times in a season. The Guardians relieved Ty Van Burkleo of his duties and will head into 2022 with a new name and new hitting coach, Chris Valaika.
The pitching was decent but inconsistent. Shane Bieber made just two late-season starts after June 13. Cal Quantrill filled in admirably, but Cleveland got lackluster performances from the rest of the rotation. As for the bullpen, there weren’t any major issues and it was probably the strength of the team. Emmanuel Clase was excellent. Veteran Bryan Shaw led the league in appearances (81) for the fourth time in his career. Rookie Nick Sandlin also had a wonderful freshman campaign.
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Of the 15 hitters who appeared in 60 games for Cleveland, only three had a wRC+ of over 105. Jose Ramirez and Franmil Reyes hit 66 homers, which accounted for 32.5 percent of the team’s total. The offense is obviously where the Guardians should focus their attention in the free-agent market. They could use just about anyone who can hit at an above-average clip. The bullpen can always use a few depth pieces as well especially to replace Shaw’s rubber arm.
Keys to the Offseason
Find a Catcher
Roberto Perez is a free agent and Austin Hedges has one more year on his deal. Hedges is an excellent defensive catcher, but his 40 wRC+ was the second-worst mark in the majors (300 PAs min.). Filling in some offense in other spots will need to be done. They don’t have to go out and try to find another Salvador Perez, but the Guardians can’t have basically an automatic out in the lineup despite the solid defense.
Figure out the Outfield
With Straw occupying the only sure spot in the outfield, the Guardians need to figure out what they are doing with the corners. Eddie Rosario moved on to greener pastures last year. It seemed they trotted out a different player every game into left and right field. None of them proved to be a difference-maker and certainly didn’t strike fear into opposing pitchers. Cleveland needs a solid middle-of-the-order bat who can play a corner outfield spot for 150 games.
Replace a Bullpen Workhorse
Replacing 81 appearances isn’t easily done if you just sign one pitcher. However, the Guardians should be able to piece it together with a couple of low-salary options. Francona has always been good at mixing and matching and getting the most from his squad. If Cleveland can pick up a couple of cheap veterans, they should be fine.
Michael Conforto, 28, Outfielder
The former first-round pick is a free agent for the first time after declining the qualifying offer from the New York Mets. Coming off of a season that saw his production dip a bit, albeit back to an average hitter, Conforto is likely looking for a multi-year deal. He could be the player that Cleveland has been looking for. While the Oregon State alum is not a great defensive right fielder, his bat more than makes up for it with a career .352 wOBA and 124 wRC+. The Guardians should add the years to make up for the AAV and ink him to a six-to-eight-year deal.
Andrew McCutchen, 35, Outfielder
Cleveland had a .303 OBP which was third-worst in the AL. McCutchen would certainly help that stat, as would Conforto for that matter. The 35-year-old has never had a below-average season as far as wRC+. Cutch may not be the force he was on the bases and in the field in Pittsburgh, but he can still get it done. He hit 27 HRs and walked at a 14.1 percent clip last year. That is definitely an improvement for the Guardians and he could likely be had for a one-year deal.
Yan Gomes, 34, Catcher
Why not bring back an old friend? Gomes had a modest .308 wOBA and 93 wRC+ in 2021. However, he switched leagues in the middle of the season and also contributed five DRS behind the plate despite playing just 771.1 innings back there. Gomes is better than anyone Cleveland has draped with the tools of ignorance in the past 10 years. Give the man a one or two-year deal.
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