Tito talks Bell, Zunino, the Naylors, Straw

January 7th, 2023

Just before the holidays rolled around, manager Terry Francona addressed his team’s offseason thus far.

Here are some highlights of his conversation.

What does Bell bring to the table?

The skinny: The Guardians were in desperate need of some pop in the middle of their order, which led to the acquisition of first baseman/designated hitter Josh Bell. To get Bell more reps at first, Francona said he’s talked to Josh Naylor about seeing some time in right field again in ’23. Whether Bell is in the field or not, expect his bat to be in the lineup as often as possible. 

Francona: “The biggest thing is hitting from both sides of the plate, and normally equally well. Providing power, regardless of where he hits. … You can pretty much think he's going to hit in the middle. That's why we got him. When you have switch-hitters that can hit from both sides, it makes it really difficult for the opposing team.”

What about Zunino? 

The skinny: The Guardians were linked to A’s catcher Sean Murphy before he was traded to the Braves. Instead the club landed free agent backstop Mike Zunino, who doesn’t quite have the offensive profile of Murphy but could be a better fit for Cleveland, considering the club is looking to pass the baton to prospect Bo Naylor. Despite missing most of last season due to thoracic outlet syndrome, Zunino is confident he’ll be ready for Spring Training. 

Francona: “Last year was difficult for him health-wise, and that's probably why we were able to get a shot at him. But the hope is he's going to be healthy, and with health comes really good defense, a guy that can run the game and then hopefully add a bunch of power to it also. But if that power isn't there, we still have a guy that runs the game and catches, which we obviously feel very strongly about.”

Speaking of Bo …

The skinny: Although the Guardians are ready for the younger Naylor to get his chance behind the plate, he’s not ready to handle the starting job just yet. It’s expected that Naylor will be on the big league roster in 2023. The only thing left to determine will be how quickly he becomes a mainstay on the 26-man roster.

Francona: “I don’t know that we’re done [making moves]. I think we’ve been pretty honest about how much we like Bo Naylor. Does that mean he’s ready for Opening Day? I don’t know if we’re ready to say that. And if he isn’t, that’s not a knock on him. But let’s let his play dictate how much he’s ready.”

Zunino is ready to help 

The skinny: When Zunino met with local media on Zoom, he not only talked about his excitement about having a healthy and productive season in ’23, he expressed enthusiasm about serving as a mentor to Bo Naylor throughout the season. 

Francona: “I saw that, and I was really pleased. … You’re trying to make your team as good as you can, but we also knew that Bo’s coming, and we think so highly of him that that’s also in our thoughts. So, to hear Zunino say what he did, that fit perfect, because we’re in a mode where we want to win today, but we also know what’s coming, and we value that very, very much.”

Can Straw bounce back?

The skinny: There’s no doubt about Myles Straw’s defense. His Gold Glove efforts in center field are enough to keep him in the lineup, and the Guardians seem confident that he can bounce back from his underwhelming 2022 season, in which he hit .221 with a .564 OPS. He’s already made trips to Cleveland this offseason to work with the hitting coaches to get back on track.

Francona: “Having a guy that plays a Gold Glove center field that can [hit .250 or .260] certainly makes us better.

You’re dealing with people, and sometimes people have tough times. You look at stats so much, sometimes you think, ‘Well, that’s going to be the case.’ But guys have ups and downs and things they go through, and sometimes they don’t have very good years and sometimes they pull out of it. Sometimes they don’t. That’s just part of the game.”