Have the Cleveland Guardians done enough to repeat as AL Central champions?
By Kevin Devine
Free Agency Review
The Guardians made two significant offseason additions, filling two of their biggest needs while only losing catcher Austin Hedges in free agency. It would be hard for fans to view the offseason as anything but a success given how few holes Cleveland had in their roster coming into the offseason.
The Guardians' biggest need was to add a power hitter who could protect José Ramírez and hit in the middle of the Guardians lineup. After failing to reach a deal with Jose Abreu, the Guardians quickly pivoted and signed first baseman/DH Josh Bell, who won a Silver Slugger last season after hitting .266 with 17 home runs in a season split between the Nationals and Padres. As a switch-hitting power hitter, Bell is a prime candidate to benefit from the new anti-shifting rules.
Their next biggest need was for a catcher to bridge the gap from Austin Hedges until prospect Bo Naylor is ready to catch every day at the big-league level. After rumors of a big trade for Sean Murphy failed to materialize, the Guardians signed Mike Zunino to a one-year deal. Zunino is an interesting fit, as a historically excellent defensive catcher who adds some value with the bat. However, he missed the final four months of 2022 after having shoulder surgery. If fully recovered, he could be one of the best values of the offseason and provide the Guardians with a huge offensive boost while handling their pitching staff and giving Naylor time to develop.
Zunino presents a clear upgrade from Austin Hedges, who the Guardians lost in free agency. Hedges was a popular clubhouse presence who handled the pitching staff well and played solid defense, but added little in the way of offense.