The Cleveland Guardians are one of the MLB's most endearing baseball teams. They resembled the old game before the league even implemented the new rules, manufacturing runs by hitting for average and stealing bases instead of the modern home-run route. A scrappy, low-cost team managed by one of the most likable guys in baseball in Terry Francona. They were an easy team to fall in love with in 2022.
This is 2023, though, and the outlook for the Guardians is much different. Sure, the date on the calendar and the perennially lackluster American League Central will prevent fans from panicking about a 22-28 record, but this level of collective regression is deeply concerning. They outperformed expectations last year, no question, but there is enough promise in this clubhouse to build off that success.
Again, I know it's May, but certain players need to step up. The amount of leeway that can be afforded to the Guardians varies, but these struggling two are being singled out by a fandom who expects Cleveland to thrive in this modified baseball product.
Here are two players fans are already fed up with in 2023.
2. Myles Straw CF
When formulating this list, it is important to keep in mind that while sports fans can be fickle and impatient, recent production carries some weight and causes the angry mob to look elsewhere. Amed Rosario (-8 defensive runs saved) and Cal Quantrill (4.75 ERA) will be given a bit of time to turn things around. But Myles Straw is not so lucky.
There are no real offensive expectations for the 28-year-old center fielder, but even his Gold Glove defense has waned. Straw has -2 outs above average, according to Statcast. That surprisingly poor showing tacks onto a near-unplayable .227 batting average and one home run. Unsurprisingly, the one area he is excelling in is stolen bases, as he is a perfect 10-for-10 on attempts this season.
That skill would be a bit more useful to the Guardians, though, if he was not posting a frightful .310 on-base percentage, which is only 11 points behind his career totals. Simply put, there have always been drawbacks with Straw, but if he is not even a plus-defender, then fans will no longer let him slide for those other glaring deficiencies.
1. Josh Bell
Through seven years and counting, it is difficult to know which Josh Bell you're going to get. There's the big homer and low average Bell, the high contact and low power Bell and the high power and solid average Bell (AKA a great player). But in 2023, Guardians fans are being treated to the downright subpar Bell.
With the second-fewest home runs in 2022, Cleveland was desperate to add some more juice to their lineup in the offseason. The front office signed the first baseman and DH to a two-year contract worth $33 million hoping to construct an overall more imposing offense. The team has actually had less pop with the 2019 All-Star, at least to this point.
Bell's production has suffered since he was traded to the San Diego Padres last year. He managed just three home runs in 53 games with them and has the same number with the Guardians through almost two months of this season. Fans will not be so patient with one of the organization's few decent-sized free agency investments, particularly on baserunning blunders. He needs to channel one of his past productive versions and immediately do away with this disappointing iteration.
Starling Marte had Josh Bell by a MILE pic.twitter.com/ujvMHAS4TB
— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) May 21, 2023
The Guardians remain well-suited for success in 2023, but Josh Bell, Myles Straw and a few others who are being given slight leniency here must reclaim that gritty underdog aura that permeated through Progressive Field in 2022. That is the awful plight of a small market club. When they underachieve, slumping players are perceived as being incompetent.
But Cleveland can rediscover the magic formula that charmed the baseball world during their competitive ALDS with the New York Yankees. It just might need to be tweaked.
That should be doable for a franchise constantly reinventing itself.