Guards' reasons to be thankful entering '24

November 15th, 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.

We’re quickly approaching the holiday season. In just over a week, many will gather for a feast with friends and family, expressing gratitude for the special things and people in their lives. No, the Guardians won’t all be together, but that doesn’t mean this group should be any less grateful.

Let’s take a look at three things the organization can be thankful for heading into 2024:

Rookie starters
Once again, Cleveland is spoiled with ridiculously talented young pitching.

Tanner Bibee was the leader of this rotation by the beginning of August, when none of the original five Opening Day starters were on the active roster. It was the 24-year-old righty who pitched like a veteran and did his best to keep the Guardians as competitive as possible for as long as possible. He owned a 2.98 ERA (140 ERA+) with 141 strikeouts and 45 walks in 142 innings (25 starts).

Gavin Williams made his debut a month after Bibee. The former top prospect brought so many expectations with him, considering his triple-digit heater had created a lot of buzz in the Minors. After a few uneasy starts to get his feet wet, Williams settled in and proved why he’s been so highly regarded during his professional career. He pitched to a 3.29 ERA with 81 strikeouts in 82 innings and gave Cleveland fans a preview of just how lethal a 1-2 punch of Williams and Bibee could be for the next handful of seasons.

And while the spotlight was split between Bibee and Williams, Logan Allen continued to be a steady force of consistency, owning a 3.81 ERA in 125 1/3 frames. His stuff may not be as flashy as Bibee’s or Williams’, but the Guardians would have struggled if the now 25-year-old lefty wouldn’t have been able to make such a seamless transition to the Majors in April when the team needed another starter.

It was clear this trio provided the Guardians’ organization with tremendous comfort for the future. It became even more obvious when Cleveland decided to designate starter Cal Quantrill for assignment on Tuesday night. As long as these three can stay healthy and can remain as consistent as they were in their rookie seasons, there’s no reason Cleveland won’t be a contender for the foreseeable future.

Naylor's breakout
We all know that José Ramírez is the heartbeat of this offense. If he’s not hitting, it will be hard for the Guardians to see any success. But with the breakout that Josh Naylor experienced in 2023, this offense has the potential to shift into another gear if the front office can bring in another impact bat or two this offseason. 

Naylor ran into some bad luck in the first month of the season. After that, he was as lights-out as any hitter in the league. He finished the year with a .308 average and an .843 OPS with 31 doubles, 17 homers and 97 RBIs. His strikeout rate plummeted from the last two years (18% in 2021 to 13.7% in ’23) and it ranked in the 94th percentile in MLB this season. With a threat like that behind Ramírez, it helps Cleveland’s All-Star third baseman to see better pitches. If the Guardians can find a way to add more protection behind Naylor before Opening Day, this offense finally would have a chance to collectively break out in ’24.

The defense
When your offense struggles at times, you have no wiggle room for error anywhere else. Luckily for the Guardians, they’ve had some of the best defenders in baseball to help assure that’s the case. In 2022, the team had four Gold Glovers in Shane Bieber, Myles Straw, Andrés Giménez and Steven Kwan. This year, Giménez and Kwan were the only two to repeat the honors, but Giménez walked away with the Platinum Glove in the American League -- the best defender of all Gold Glove recipients.

These two will cause the Guardians to think a little harder this winter. They’re excellent at second base and left field, but could those gloves be better utilized in more critical defensive positions like shortstop and center field? The front office has already said it’ll debate this internal tug of war considering no one wants to disrupt the stellar production at their current positions, but they also want to maximize the usage of these two above-average players.

I guess it’s a problem they can be thankful to have.