What's Next for the Cleveland Guardians?

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The dust has started to settle on the Guardians 2023 season, and now the questions, some of which have been lingering all season, need to be addressed.

Terry Francona's tenure as manager had ended, though Tito will likely be back in some capacity. I won't even try to whittle down the reported nearly 50 names of candidates. But Kevin Cash and Craig Counsell are no longer in the playoffs. Cash has a year remaining on his deal, making a reunion more difficult - but crazier things have happened. I just enjoy stirring the pot, trying to predict who becomes the next manager is not in my wheelhouse.

So instead let's focus on the on-field product. 2023 was a disappointment, no questions asked. Minnesota didn't want the division, yet this Guardians club could never get out of neutral and take control. However, we did learn some things.

Whiffs, regression, and hope for the future

Mike Zunino didn't work out. Josh Bell was not good enough. Amed Rosario seemingly existed only at the expense of a number of prospect's development. Oscar Gonzalez 180'ed from his 2022 breakout. Injuries caused the opening-day rotation to crumble. On a nightly basis, the bullpen showcased the greatest Jekyll and Hyde performance. Players like Steven Kwan and Andres Gimenez regressed from their breakout seasons of a year ago.

But for all of the bad which was the 2023 season, there was much to celebrate too. Jose Ramirez continued his usual dominance while also showcasing his boxing prowess. Josh Naylor became the hitter we all hoped he would. Bo Naylor was given an opportunity, sometimes, and looks the part. Tanner Bibee, Gavin Williams, and Logan Allen likely solidified their spots in the rotation for years to come. Ramon Laureano was a pleasant surprise pickup, who at times provided a spark to the lineup. Gabriel Arias's bat turned heads (when he wasn't striking out). Will Brennan, David Fry, and Tyler Freeman showed enough to at least warrant a bench spot.

So what does all this mean for 2024?

Well, where to begin? The rotation seems set, and there appears to be depth with the likes of Cal Quantrill and Joey Cantillo. Seeing Shane Bieber and Triston McKenzie bounce back from injury bodes well too. First base, second, third, catcher, and left field all appear set. Leaving voids only at short, center, and right. This leaves a strong possibility that internal candidates will battle it out for two of those three spots during spring training. The bullpen has been taxed this season, and some of the issues that have plagued it are to be expected, but another season like this current one is not ideal for any team looking to contend.

Guys like Kyle Manzardo, Brayan Rocchio, George Valera, Johnathan Rodriguez, and Joey Cantillo could factor into the '24 club as well, though not all are on the current 40-man roster. Sprinkle in smart/strategic free agent signings, and the club should be back in contention next season.

This off-season will be one unlike any we've seen a over a decade, and it's only just begun.