The Cleveland Guardians still need to add a veteran starting pitcher

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Boston Red Sox v Toronto Blue Jays / Mark Blinch/GettyImages

The Cleveland Guardians are in a unique position. A team that came out of nowhere and overperformed entered the 2022-23 offseason as AL Central champions and wild-card champions that took the New York Yankees to the brink of defeat in the ALDS. But what’s truly unique - special, even - about this iteration of the Guardians, the way they’re built, is that most of the spots in the lineup and down the roster are filled with young talent that is locked up via rookie contracts or in arbitration.

There are clear holes that could have been filled by trading for proven major-league talent (see Sean Murphy), but Cleveland has a lineup, one through nine, with exciting prospects coming up behind, that fans can buy into. The pitching staff, one that - for the moment - can flash former Cy Young winner Shane Bieber and Triston McKenzie, is full of a rotating cast of young pitchers still trying to work through kinks at the major-league level. Even Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac and Cal Quantrill look to provide solid innings as back-end starters. 

With absolute studs, specifically Daniel Espino and Gavin Williams, storming through the system with projected ETAs of 2023, the Guardians' pitching staff can be a force to be reckoned with for at least the next five years. 

But just as Cleveland has opted for veteran leaders to help guide young players through their first few seasons of a major-league campaign, 2023 might be the year for the Guardians to apply that theory to their pitching staff. This is in no way a call for the Guardians to open their pockets and shake out every last penny to find someone still toiling away on the open market. If they really wanted to, there are rumors around the league of magnificent starting pitchers on the trade block. Think of this blog as a call for the pitching staff’s version of Mike Zunino, Juan Uribe or Mike Napoli.

Sure, there’s no guarantee when taking a one-year flier on a pitcher sliding down the wrong slide of 30. But the point of signing someone wouldn’t be necessarily for his production, but rather the veteran’s job would be as a de facto assistant pitching coach, able to bestow his knowledge and expertise on a young pitching staff trying to wrestle through the turbulence of a long MLB season.

As January passes its midway point and the date for pitchers and catchers to report draws closer, clearly the pickings are slim. And there are a few more hurdles the Guardians face when trying to connect with a veteran starting pitcher. Spotrac only has four starting pitchers that are currently free agents with listed market values - and all but one are projected to make over $10 million. Zack Greinke, Michael Wacha, Dylan Bundy and Chad Kuhl headline that crop of starting pitchers still in search of a new home. 

The Guardians have shown a willingness to spend at least a little more on free-agent acquisitions and long-term extensions, so it’s not out of the realm of possibilities to say they might go after another free agent. Currently, Cleveland has three players making over $10 million, and if we’re going off of what Spotrac is projecting, any free agent from the aforementioned group would slot in as the fourth-highest paid player on Cleveland’s roster.

So, the first question Cleveland faces is whether or not it would want to pony up that money - albeit for one season - for someone who is at least 30 years old. The Guardians have also expressed that they feel comfortable entering the season with the players within the organization, casting off the thought that they might be supremely aggressive on the trade block or free-agent market this offseason. Any signing would also prevent a starter from making his way onto the mound at Progressive Field, which may also not be an avenue the Guardians want to go down. But it also makes a trade of Plesac, Civale or Quantrill much more plausible. 

Wacha is projected to earn nearly $12 million this year, but has been a back-of-the-rotation guy for the last four years, each spent with a different organization. He knows how to win, going back to his days with the St. Louis Cardinals, and posted a 3.32 ERA with a 127 ERA+ through 127 innings last season. Kuhl is the cheapest option after spending one season with the Colorado Rockies, where he threw his first complete game shutout. Bundy struggled for Minnesota, but can still be a workhorse who could eat up innings for the Guardians. Greinke is likely out of the question at 39 years old, though the former World Series champion would definitely provide insight for a young staff.

This is not a long-term solution, nor is it plugging a hole for a team that desperately needs it. The Guardians have young, flashy talent on the way, with some likely to debut this upcoming season. This move would help those young guys learn from someone with a track record, experience and - in most cases - who knows what it’s like to be on a winning team. And hey, who knows, maybe that final starting pitcher can handle himself on the road (ahem, Quantrill) or doesn’t fall into midseason dips (ahem Plesac) that could hinder a team looking to ultimately make a deep postseason run.