The Cleveland Guardians might still be in the midst of Major League Baseball’s lockout, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t put together a Christmas wish list for the team.
While a win in the 2016 World Series, a healthy Grady Sizemore, and a shutdown performance by Charles Nagy in 1997 may have been on every Cleveland fan’s Christmas list at one point, the following should be on the list of every Guardians fan this offseason.
A Christmas Wish List for the 2022 Cleveland Guardians
1. A positive end to the lockout. Major League Baseball’s lockout needs to end not just for the Guardians to have a regular season, but Guardians fans must root for a positive outcome as well. Guardians fans should fear the proposals to raise the minimum pay for players and the proposed shortening of length in regards to rookie contracts. Players want to be paid more, and this can create issues for a small-market team such as Cleveland. The desire to get young players paid earlier will pose a challenge; say goodbye to team-friendly deals for young superstars. Conversely, Guardians fans should be encouraged by the potential expanding of the playoffs. Cleveland is perennially competitive and a great pitching staff is always dangerous.
2. The Dolans spending some money. Guardians fans are far too familiar with hearing that a player will be too expensive, or that someone needs to agree to a team-friendly deal. In 2022, the Guardians payroll is projected to be a meager $29 million (ranked last in the MLB, though before arbitration figures into things) while the median payroll in MLB is projected to be just north of $105 million. The White Sox are projected to spend over $165 million in 2022; if the Guardians do not become willing to spend more money, they will struggle to keep up with infusing talent into the organization. The herculean effort of the front office to draft great players and sign underrated, cheap major leaguers has led to a consistently competitive team, but to quote Bobby Axelrod in the HBO’s Billions, “Billy Beane never won a World Series.” The front office does a great job working around the limitations, but it’d be great to see a Guardians team active in free agency, and capable of resigning its best players. Remember when the Indians signed Edwin Encarnacion, which stands as the most expensive contract in franchise history? Those were the days.
3. A healthy starting pitching staff. Cleveland finally created one of the best bullpens in baseball in 2021. Unfortunately, the starters could not stay healthy. Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac, and Aaron Civale all missed significant time with injuries. For a team that struggled on offense, the Guardians could not afford to have the injuries they did. A team ERA of 4.34 (10th in the AL), 216 home runs allowed (12th in the AL), and 522 walks (9th in the AL), was not good enough to get the job done. For the Guardians to be competitive, they need to be near the top of the AL in most pitching categories. With the emergence of closer Emmanuel Chase (1.29 ERA) and the rest of the bullpen, the Guardians could be a simply healthy starting staff away from an exceptional pitching staff as whole.
4. A potent offense. In the past few years, the manner in which offense is played has changed. As everyone knows, strikeouts are up, home runs are up, and the strategy of moving a runner over via the bunt is essentially extinct. In 2021, Cleveland was 18th in the league in scoring, averaging 4.43 runs per game. We know Jose Ramirez and Myles Straw can hit. They are proven commodities. Franmil Reyes, Josh Naylor, and Amed Rosario look to be solid players with potential, albeit a tier below Ramirez. Reyes’s power was back last season, hitting 30 home runs in 115 games. If he can maintain that pace and remain healthy through the entire season, that would add an immediate influx of much-needed power into the offense. Ramirez maintained his All-Star form, leading the team with 36 home runs.
The key to the 2022 offense will be the likes of Bobby Bradley, Oscar Mercado, Bradley Zimmer, and perhaps Nolan Jones reaching their potential and establishing themselves as consistent offensive weapons. Jones, 23, is one of the top prospects in the Guardians organization and a cornerstone of the organization’s future plans. He had something of a down year in 2021, batting .238 in AAA compared to his .271 average throughout the minors. But if he can reach his potential in Cleveland, he will be significant value added to the major-league roster, possibly as soon as this season.
Bradley had a rough debut in 2019, lost significant weight coming in to 2021, but has not quite carved out his place in the majors. His talent is immense, his home runs undoubtedly impressive, and he is super easy to root for, but there needs to be some consistency.
5. A healthy manager. The Guardians have one of the best managers of the past thirty years. Here’s to the health of Tito and a great inaugural year of the Cleveland Guardians.