In 2021, the soon-to-be-rebranded Cleveland Indians finished under .500 for the first time since 2012. After making the playoffs in the last four-of-five seasons, Cleveland decisively missed the playoffs by 12 games. Given the fact that Starting Pitcher Mike Clevinger was traded away at the 2020 deadline, Shortstop Francisco Lindor was shipped off prior to the season and Ace Shane Bieber missed half of the season due to injury, an 80-82 record could be looked at as a moral victory. The problem lies within that though; while Cleveland is a solid enough ballclub at the moment in the face of adversity, there doesn’t seem to be a team with a whole ton of growth potential at the moment.
Sure, there are some bright spots. 3rd Baseman Jose Ramirez played at an All-Star level once again, DH Franmil Reyes flexed his muscles for 30 homers in only 115 games, Closer Emmanuel Clase showed some nice stuff in his role, and Cal Quantrill took steps from a promising young pitcher, to a future stalwart at the top of the rotation. In addition, Triston McKenzie was inconsistent, yet flashed greatness on occasion, such as his seven-inning, scoreless performance against the Royals this season. On the surface, it seems like a nice foundation, but the surface is where it stops.
The remainder of the roster is filled with painfully average pieces who look to have plateaued in their development. For example, Austin Hedges and Bobby Bradley are solid defenders, but not enough to make up for their lack of offensive production. 2nd Baseman Cesar Hernandez is a journeyman at this point. New Shortstop Amed Rosario admirably filled Lindor’s shoes this season, but he appears to have reached his ceiling. Myles Straw played a solid 60 games, but his lack of real power with the bat leaves him as likely to be not much more than a good 4th outfielder going forward. Throw in a hodgepodge of subpar talents like Harold Ramirez, Bradley Zimmer and Yu Chang, and it rounds out an uninspiring team.
A piece that happens to show some promise, young Outfielder Josh Naylor suffered a severe setback, as he broke and dislocated his ankle midway through the season. He showed a decent amount of power with the bat as well as prowess in the field, but his ailment will likely alter his development noticeably.
The farm system is okay, but nowhere near great. Despite having five top-100 prospects, none of them are ranked in the top-50. The Cleveland minor league system carries a solid amount of decent prospects who profile to be serviceable in the majors, but they currently lack a bonafide young stud projected to be game-changers at the next level.
The coaching staff isn’t looking ultra-pretty either. Ruben Niebla, described by some as a “pitching whisperer” and credited by young gun Cal Quantrill as a key part of his development from good to great was acquired by the San Diego Padres. A member of the Indians since 2001, it’s hard to find anybody affiliated with him who wouldn’t sing his praises. His wisdom would have worked wonders for young pitchers such as Triston McKenzie, but obviously, the ship has sailed. Here’s to hoping that Cleveland can find a coach with a similar pedigree.
As good as he is a manager, Terry Francona is certainly not getting any younger. With his time coming to an end combined with Jose Ramirez only being contracted for two more seasons, Cleveland’s contention window is likely shut for the next few seasons. With Cleveland unlikely to pursue a splash Free Agent signing, the Guardians brand appears to unfortunately be trapped in a state of limbo for the near future. It’s not the bleakest future imaginable, but something needs to change soon if the Guardians want to leap back into the upper echelon of MLB before it’s too late.