The Cleveland Guardians executed a soft punt on 2023 with eyes on contending in 2024

Cleveland Guardians v Chicago White Sox
Cleveland Guardians v Chicago White Sox / Michael Reaves/GettyImages

The Cleveland Guardians had a strange trade deadline, which is just another chapter in what has ultimately been a very strange, often frustrating 2023 season.

With the trades of Aaron Civale, Josh Bell, and Amed Rosario, the team is effectively punting - albeit ever so softly - on the 2023 season, hoping to remain competitive in the atrocious AL Central but also keeping an eye on 2024.

A down season following a surprise playoff berth is nothing new. Remember, the then-Indians made the playoffs in 2013, then farted around in 2014 and 2015, constructing a roster that would ultimately go to the World Series in 2016. The path to contention isn't always linear, and most teams aren't making the playoffs every season, let alone being considered World Series favorites.

The Guardians clubhouse was no doubt disturbed by the trades, evidenced by president Chris Antonetii and GM Mike Chernoff racing down to Houston in a jet to speak directly to what appears to be a somewhat disgruntled team.

But as Antonetti said himself, the pitching-starved Rays were desperate enough to part ways with a top, major-league-ready prospect for Civale. The Guardians just don't have any enticing corner infield prospects, and acquiring Kyle Manzardo was something the organization couldn't pass up.

Once that deal was in place, Bell became an expendable asset, and one had to assume he'd be opting into his 2024 contract given his disappointing season to this point. The Guardians probably didn't enter the deadline anticipating a Bell trade, but an opportunity presented itself and Cleveland took an opportunity to set itself up for the future (one that Josh Bell wasn't going to be a part of anyway). Plus, who knows, maybe a change of scenery could be just what Khalil Watson needs to reclaim his status as a top prospect himself.

Optics-wise, sure, it doesn't look great that the Guardians parted ways with so much to receive so little in return, at least from the perspective of acquiring major-league talent. But we're talking about impending free agent Rosario (statistically the worst defensive infielder in baseball), Civale (who has never made more than 21 starts or reached 125 innings pitched in a season), and Bell (a disappointing signing by all accounts). What exactly is there to miss here?

As far as the AL Central goes, the Guardians were in contention only by the sheer ineptitude of the teams surrounding them. If the prospect of reaching .500 feels like a herculean, nearly insurmountable task, it's probably time to take a look in the mirror and consider the makeup of your team. If anything, the front office deserves some props for recognizing that and working to make the Guardians more competitive next season, when a new crop of rookies will be closer to the big leagues (not to mention Cleveland can look at other potential external moves this offseason).

Having said all this, the Guardians probably end up going on a miraculous run, taking the AL Central and winning it all this year. That's just baseball for you.