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The Guardians were quiet last offseason, and there has been little indication that anything is stirring in their front office just yet this winter. But the team has given the impression that there’s more financial flexibility to dabble with this offseason.
“I do expect our payroll to be appreciably higher this year than it was last year,” Guardians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. “Where, exactly, that settles, we’re just not quite sure. Some of that will be a function of not just our internal projections, but what opportunities are going to be available to us on the market. As you know, we don’t only look at things in a one-year snapshot — we really think about team building on a multiyear horizon.”
Here are five questions facing the Guardians this winter:
1. Who will be the Opening Day catcher? This will be priority No. 1 for the Guardians this offseason. Antonetti explained at the General Managers Meetings earlier this month that the team has already had conversations with this past year’s backstop Austin Hedges, who is now a free agent. However, it certainly wouldn’t hurt for the Guardians to acquire a catcher who can be more of an offensive threat than Hedges was in 2022. Cleveland values defensive catchers, which is why Sean Murphy may be a good fit. He won a Gold Glove in 2021 with outstanding defensive metrics and turned in an 18-homer season this past year with Oakland.
2. Can they find a bat to platoon with Naylor? Josh Naylor played a key part in some of the Guardians’ biggest wins this season, but his numbers against lefties were subpar. He hit just .173 with a .512 OPS against southpaws, and with Cleveland’s pressing need for more pop in the lineup, first base could be the best spot to find that power. Someone like Trey Mancini could fill that void. Regardless of who it is, it’s more likely the team will find this bat via trade than free agency, and it will most assuredly be a right-handed hitter.
3. Who is most likely to be traded?
The biggest area of depth the Guardians have to trade from is the middle infield — they have nine middle infielders on their 40-man roster. It also wouldn’t be too shocking to see starter Zach Plesac’s name pop up in trade rumors over the next few months.
4. Does the bullpen need to be improved? They say when something isn’t broken, there’s no need to fix it. Cleveland’s bullpen was surprisingly effective this year, owning the fifth-best ERA in the Majors (3.05 — third best in the AL). However, it seems hard to believe that this group of young, inexperienced arms could duplicate the incredible season they had yet again. It wouldn’t hurt to find more options, and that may come internally, considering reliever Tim Herrin was one of the three in-house prospects recently added to the 40-man roster.
5. Are the Guardians OK without more starting pitching depth?
This may be difficult to answer before the season gets underway, but the team will always take extra pitching, especially if Plesac is dealt this winter. There’s a new wave of exciting hurlers making their way through the player development system — Gavin Williams, Daniel Espino and Tanner Bibee come to mind — but 2023 seems ambitious for their debuts. In order to bridge the gap to these prospects, extra starting arms wouldn’t hurt.