February 27, 2024

 

We are gathered here today to pay our final respects to the 2023 Cleveland Guardians’ playoff hopes. Loved by much of this humble community on our majestic waterfront, the Guardians this season will be remembered lovingly for how they saw a crop of young pitching prospects ascend into the promised land of the Major Leagues and perform admirably despite adversity.

Indeed, we will look to the future with the knowledge that we have many years to marvel at the likes of Logan Allen, Tanner Bibee, Gavin Williams and Xzavion Curry. For this, as humble Guardians fans we can celebrate. However, the rest of the story of the 2023 Guardians is filled with much sorrow.

For much, we can lament:

An anemic offense smitten by the BABIP Gods nearly from the beginning and without the home run ability to overcome this, their original ailment. A team 26th in weighted Runs Created+ with runners in scoring position and dead last in home runs overall is not a recipe for health and prosperity.

And more specifically, the loss of Oscar Gonzalez‘s ability to make good contact on bad pitches. The loss of the lofty prospect hopes of players like Gabriel Arias, Will Brennan and Bo Naylor as this trio is slashing .224/.286/.342 on the season. And to the regression means that has been Andres Gimenez‘s offensive campaign, on pace for about five fewer homers and 30 fewer hits.

As well as the additions of free agent catcher Mike Zunino and designated hitter Josh Bell, promised to help with the severe lack of power the team had last season but both were gone before the Guardians played a game in August. And to the $22.5 million that was ruefully spent to sign them to the roster that the organization and its meager budget will never see again.

To Shane Bieber‘s elbow and trade value, Triston McKenzie‘s elbow and shoulder and Cal Quantrill‘s shoulder and stuff, which have appeared to be decimated since his one appearance in the World Baseball Classic.

And lastly, to a bullpen suffering from a severe bout of implosions and exhaustion. What was baseball’s best bullpen by ERA at the All-Star break has been the third-worst bullpen in baseball since. Much like when one part of the body is injured and the rest of the body needs to compensate and ends up with its own issues, the bullpen compensated for the pained starting rotation and now shows its own interminable signs of wear.

 

We must also remember those who we lost over the course of this spring and summer:

Touki Toussaint, we hardly knew ye. Thanks for being a sacrificial lamb in your one start before we unceremoniously DFA’d you.

Konnor Pilkington, you were a gamer in 2022 but couldn’t overcome minor league struggles this year. It pains me to see your 9+ ERA in Arizona’s system almost as much as it pained me to see your 8+ ERA in ours.

Meibrys Viloria– you existed on this roster just to catch late in ballgames after Zunino was pinch-hit for. May someone somewhere remember your three at-bats with all the devotion they deserve.

To Zunino and Bell, thank you for all the hope you gave us and for the hot start that Zunino got off to in the first two weeks of the season that made it look like the Guardians could take their time to bring Naylor to the Majors. That time was a dream in comparison to what was to come. And in Bell’s case, no hard feelings. While he certainly wasn’t the worst of Guardians hitters, slugging .383 while being signed to be a middle of the order power threat left much to be desired. At least we have his 464′ bomb in Kansas City to look back on with much love and wonder what could have been if he just could have squared up more balls.

And to Amed Rosario and Aaron Civale, whose trades were the true death knell of this season that what once filled with such hope and anticipation. In Rosario, a free swinger and horrible defender was lost, but so was an important clubhouse leader who played the game with intensity and speed. Amed truly did perform admirably as the shortstop after Frank Lindor for his first two seasons in town and simply could not recreate that to the same extent this year.

As for Civale, his tenure with the Guardians was checkered, but mostly only because of an inability to stay healthy. Civale was the Guardians’ most dependable veteran starter this year with a 2.34 ERA in 13 starts but fell victim to the Guardians’ need to make most of what was likely a pitcher pitching a little over his head for a team with three better pitchers on the IL and not much in the way of championship possibilities. While Civale should be remembered for his own merit, perhaps by 2027 he will be remembered as the price it cost to bring star first baseman Kyle Manzardo to the organization.

 

And now with this season’s demise, we must grapple with the fact that we are left with so many questions.

Can ballplayers once considered cornerstones like Gimenez, Gonzalez, Steven Kwan and Myles Straw return to form after underwhelming seasons? What will we learn about Arias, Brennan and Brayan Rocchio down the stretch? Can these ballplayers be Major League starters?

Can veterans brought in to provide leadership and potentially revive their careers like Noah Syndergaard, Kole Calhoun and Ramon Laureano re-find their potential in Cleveland, and if they do, can the Guardians even retain them for a season where they can affect a playoff birth?

Can Bieber, McKenzie and Quantrill pitch without their collective arms falling off? How is it possible that Emmanuel Clase throws so darn hard but misses so few bats? Who can Terry Francona trust in the bullpen to get outs consistently late in games with the lead?

Are the 2024 Guardians really playoff contenders? Will this front office take another stab at trying to bolster the roster with outside talent after being burned so badly this winter? How long is this re-tooling really going to take? Was 2022 just an aberration?

Did I rip this idea off of an old bit Pete Franklin used to do on the radio? This one I can answer. Absolutely.

 

There is baseball yet to be played in 2023, and even for the Guardians, this can be important as some of these questions may be answered. Still, today, although not officially eliminated by any means, we must acknowledge that the Guardians’ hopes for postseason supremacy ended at the trade deadline. The white flag was lifted when they traded veterans like Rosario, Bell and Civale so that they could play out the rest of the season getting a look at the likes of Arias, Rocchio and Gonzalez, among others. This season was gone even before their 3-8 record since the deadline (including being no-hit and blowing three leads within the course of a week).

Perhaps the Guardians can be reincarnated stronger- with bats more vibrant and arms more durable. Hope always springs eternal and another spring will come. But for today, we remember what could have been with the 2023 Cleveland Guardians.

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