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2023 MLB Season Preview: Cleveland Guardians

The Guardians should once again have the best team in the AL Central — a bar so low, Jose Ramirez could probably jump over it.

Division Series - New York Yankees v Cleveland Guardians - Game Four Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

No division winner in baseball finished with fewer wins than the 92 the Cleveland Guardians posted in 2022, and no second-place team finished with fewer wins than the 81 wins the Chicago White Sox managed. That’s the AL Central, folks. The good news for Cleveland is that no re-alignment happened over the winter and they still play in the AL Central. Even more good news: somehow, I think that division is actually worse heading into 2023 than it was last season, so the path is once again wide-open for Cleveland’s division title run.

The Guardians, and I will call them the Indians at some point today, even if just in my head, are always a team looking to exist, and sometimes excel, on the margins. Their estimated $91 million payroll for 2023 ranks in the bottom 10 in all of baseball, and Guardians fans feel right at home there, ‘cause that's pretty much where they always are. They make their way in the world with savvy moves for veterans, the occasional free agent signing, and most importantly, a top-notch pitcher development system.

Expectations for 2023

ZiPS doesn’t really like this roster, honestly. It projects Cleveland for just 83 wins next season, but because this is the AL Central we’re talking about here, that’s still enough to take the division by three games over Minnesota, assuming the point estimates play out in reality. Steamer doesn’t really disagree, and is slightly higher on the Twins, such that Steamer-ZiPS blend projections see the Guardians as either a game ahead of the Twins, or basically tied with them with 83 wins, depending on the methodology used.

PECOTA sees slightly more in both teams, as it has Cleveland winning the division with 89 wins over Minnesota’s 88 wins.

Basically, the most likely outcome is an 80-something win team from either Cleveland or Minnesota is going to win the division while a slightly less 80-something win team from either Cleveland or Minnesota vies for, and possibly falls short of, a wild card spot. FanGraphs has very little confidence either will make a post-season run, placing their World Series odds at below three percent, with both teams having about a coin flip’s chance of making the playoffs to begin with.

Projected Roster

Per Roster Resource:


  1. Steven Kwan - LF
  2. Amed Rosario - SS
  3. Jose Ramirez - 3B
  4. Josh Bell - DH
  5. Andres Jimenez - 2B
  6. Josh Naylor - 1B
  7. Oscar Gonzalez - RF
  8. Mike Zunino - C
  9. Myles Straw - CF


Cam Gallagher - C
Gabriel Arias - INF
Tyler Freeman - INF/OF
Will Brennan - OF


  1. Shane Bieber - RHP
  2. Triston McKenzie - RHP
  3. Cal Quantril - RHP
  4. Aaron Civale - RHP
  5. Zach Plesac - RHP


Emmanuel Clase - RHP
James Karinchak - RHP
Trevor Stephan - RHP
Sam Hentges - LHP
Nick Sandlin - RHP
Enyel Des Los Santos - RHP
Eli Morgan - RHP
Cody Morris - RHP

Biggest Strength

As long as Jose Ramirez resides on the team, he represents their biggest strength, best player, MVP, mayor, whatever. As a perennial 6-win player, it all starts with him. The emergence of Andres Gimenez last season helps to bolster a generally-mediocre position player group; if Gimenez repeats his 2022 success, it'll give Cleveland a legit 1-2 punch of superstars.

Basically, this is a top-heavy roster that is mostly competitive because of Ramirez, but Gimenez helps spread the high-level production out a bit. Also worth noting as strengths are left field, where Steven Kwan’s unique skillset makes him one of the only interesting players at the position in the game, and the bullpen, where Emmanuel Clause presides over a handful of projected-to-be-strong arms before the tail end drops off. Shane Bieber is also one of the most talented starters in baseball, and the Guardians will probably need both him and Clase to do what they’ve done in the recent past to earn a second consecutive division title.

Biggest Weakness

Triston Mckenzie took a huge step forward in 2022 and repeating that in 2023 would give the Guardians a clear number one and two in their rotation. It’s the three spots after that where the concerns start. Cal Quantril had a nice season last year but many of the underlying metrics are predicting a regression in 2023. Aaron Civale has some interesting numbers but has never put it together for a full season and Zach Plesac is the ultimate wild card. The Guardians have a history of figuring out their rotation one way or the other so that helps but they'd love a few more answers than they have at the moment.

On the offensive side, Oscar Gonzalez figuring out how to take a walk every once in a while would help, and Myles Straw is not a good offensive center-fielder (though very good defensively.) So outfield help, especially on offense, is probably something they'll look into more around the deadline. Gonzalez and right field might be the team’s biggest issue overall — they’ve done a good job of finding decent-enough, if not exciting, answers at every position, but he just isn’t quite on the same tier as many of the other guys they’ve assembled around Ramirez. Of course, he’s only 25, so there’s a chance he’ll improve, but right now he kind of sticks out a bit.

Reinforcements from the Farm

Cleveland’s farm system is a tremendous asset moving into 2023. Keith Law just recently ranked the Guardians’ system number two in baseball, with a host of prospects making his top-100 list. They did take a hit recently when one of their best prospects, Daniel Espino, learned that he had a tear in his pitching shoulder. Espino is now shut down for at least eight weeks. If offense becomes a struggle, SS Brayan Rocchio could certainly get a look in Cleveland, as could OF Jorge Valera. Bo Naylor at catcher could also be called on at some point in 2023, with a strong reputation offensively and defensively, should the Zunino signing not go as intended. Gabriel Arias is another prospect that could help out in 2023 if injuries strike. The Guardians may not have a great central projection, but there’s a lot of high-minors depth for them to plug and play with — though the pitching does look a little thin compared to past years.

Braves and Guardians Matchup History

Of course, if you go far enough back, the Braves and Guardians played in a certain World Series in 1995, that some may remember. Recent history, however, is much harder to come by. Being in separate leagues, and ones that rarely get matched up together for interleague play, the Braves haven't played the Guardians since 2019. They won that three-game series, two games to one, in mid-April that season, with Josh Donaldson hitting multiple home runs in the series.

That, of course, will all change moving forward, as MLB has finally moved away from the prior version of the unbalanced schedule, and now will have every team play every other team at least for one series every year. So Braves/Guardians will become a yearly thing, starting in 2023. This season the matchup takes place July 4 week, as Atlanta goes to Cleveland for a three-game series. Next season the games will be in Atlanta, and alternate host cities thereafter.

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