Cleveland eyes revamped bats in '24 under new skipper

December 28th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Mandy Bell’s Guardians Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Last week, we put the 2023 season to rest by looking back at the top five moments the Guardians enjoyed on the field. Now, it’s time to turn the page. 

The New Year is just days away, and the Guardians have a lot to figure out. They know their biggest priority needs to be improving this offense, but how are they going to do it? They know they’ll need to rely on their promising rotation once again, but will Triston McKenzie be able to stay healthy in order to play a prominent role this year? They showed that you can be young and win in 2022, but how will new manager Stephen Vogt handle a young, inexperienced roster in his first season as skipper? 

The Guardians entered the offseason with a handful of goals. It’s just a matter of whether they’ll be able to accomplish them before Spring Training rolls around. 

“If your pitching is so good, you can still work around [not scoring many runs] and be a playoff-caliber team,” Guardians general manager Mike Chernoff said at the end of the 2023 season. “But our goal is not to be 27th in the league in runs scored. Our goal is to score more runs than we give up and ideally have a great offense. 

“We’re not seeking a contact-oriented profile like we had last year. … We’re seeking to have the best offense and the best mix of players that we can have, and then customize our approach on the individual players that we happen to have.”

A lot of questions won’t be answered until next season gets underway, but let’s do our best to preview what’s to come in 2024.

Biggest question to answer before Spring Training: Will they trade ? 

The Guardians added free agent Austin Hedges for his defense as a backup catcher and his leadership, signed free agent righty Ben Lively to add to their starting depth and traded for righty Scott Barlow to help at the back end of the bullpen. But nothing has been done to externally improve the offense this offseason thus far, aside from adding Deyvison De Los Santos, a 20-year-old corner infielder who hasn’t played above Double-A, in the Rule 5 Draft. Cleveland still needs help offensively, and Bieber -- although his trade value isn’t what it used to be -- may be the easiest option to help that.

One player poised to have a breakout season:  

Naylor has played a total of half a season in the Majors and can return to Spring Training next year with a level of confidence he wouldn’t have had in 2023. As a young catcher, he’s not only learning how to hit Major League pitching, he’s also learning a pitching staff, figuring out how to call a big league game and making successful game plans. Now, with experience and his brother Josh, Hedges and three former catchers on the coaching staff at his side, he should have ample resources to help break out in ‘24.

Prospect to watch in 2024:

The Guardians are hoping that Manzardo can help fill a glaring void in their lineup next season. The team’s No. 2 prospect, as ranked by MLB Pipeline, is known for his elite bat-to-ball skills, which fits perfectly into Cleveland’s current hitting approach, but in this year’s Arizona Fall League, he demonstrated a growth in power. And because the Guardians finished last in homers in the Majors in 2023 and 29th in ’22, that power would be a welcome addition. With a strong spring, Manzardo could land on Cleveland’s Opening Day roster, sharing time with Josh Naylor at first base and designated hitter.

One prediction for the new year: will be a Cy Young finalist 

So often, rookies experience a sophomore slump, but Bibee is primed to skip that step. He ended his first season with a 2.98 ERA in 25 starts with 141 strikeouts in 142 innings. He was forced to miss his last few starts due to right hip inflammation, which left a mighty chip on his shoulder, as he desperately wanted to boost his numbers for an even better case for the American League Rookie of the Year. Bibee displayed a tremendous ability to adapt on the fly in 2023, and with experience under his belt, he can take a big step in ’24.