A year after running away with the American League Central, the Cleveland Guardians are struggling to stay afloat in Major League Baseball's worst division. Cleveland is five games below .500 but is fortunate to only be 3.5 games out of first place.
The middle infield duo of Andres Jimenez and Amed Rosario both regressed after impressive campaigns in 2022, while the other Cleveland hitters have not picked up the slack. Jose Ramirez is the only Guardian hitting above .260 (.261 at that) and Cleveland is dead last in MLB with just 35 home runs. Plus only the lowly Oakland Athletics are scoring fewer runs per game than these Rust Belt batters.
This is unfortunate for Cleveland because Triston McKenzie and Aaron Civale are finally off the injured list, teaming with Shane Bieber to form one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball. And the Guardians are elite at holding onto leads as well. Emmanuel Clase has 19 saves and leads a bullpen that has the second-best ERA in MLB.
The need is clear for Cleveland: acquire some hitters, and fast. The AL Central is a quagmire, and despite the Guardians' inability to produce runs, the majority of the division is stuck below .500. Even divisional leaders the Minnesota Twins are only in the black by two games.
Here are four early trade deadline targets for the Guardians to pull themselves out of the mud and jumpstart their dormant offense.
4 early 2023 MLB trade deadline targets for Guardians
Ryan McMahon (3B/2B/1B), Colorado Rockies
The Guardians need offensive help at just about every position. Fortunately for them, Ryan McMahon can play just about every infield position and is hitting the cover off the ball this year. McMahon ranks in the 85th percentile or better in average exit velocity and hard-hit percentage, while also posting the highest slugging percentage and OPS of his career.
Lars Nootbaar (OF), St. Louis Cardinals
In this deep St. Louis Cardinals outfield, Lars Nootbaar might be the odd man out once he returns from the injured list, competing with Alec Burleson, Tommy Edman, Jordan Walker, and a host of other injured outfielders.
Lars Nootbaar is a rare power hitter who walks almost as often as he strikes out — which is even more impressive considering he is just 25 years old. His slugging percentage is down this year, but Nootbaar's increased on-base percentage kept his OPS about the same. He also has the flexibility to play every outfield position.
Mark Canha (OF), New York Mets
The MLB hit-by-pitch leader in each of the last two seasons, Mark Canha is a solid right-handed outfield option. His power numbers are not quite what they used to be, but Canha is adept at avoiding strikeouts and can hit to all fields, making him an upgrade to Cleveland's current underwhelming outfield.
Taylor Ward (OF), Los Angeles Angels
Taylor Ward was heralded as the third-best hitter on the Angels after Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani — the batter that pitchers had to face after working around LAA's pair of superstars. Instead, Ward has been increasingly streaky and has not demonstrated the powerful bat of a guy who had 47 extra-base hits in 2022.
Still, Ward is hitting nearly 100 points better on the road than at home, and his road slugging percentage is nearly 200 points higher. A change of scenery would be beneficial both for Ward and the light-hitting Guardians of Cleveland.