CLEVELAND — The scripted name atop Progressive Field’s giant scoreboard is new. The same goes for the team’s caps and jerseys, signaling a fresh start for Cleveland baseball in 2022.
Everything else looks pretty much the same. It’s not so much a rebrand as a replay.
No longer known as the Indians for the first time in 107 years, the Guardians enter this season with expectations nearly as low as their payroll.
Cleveland hasn’t thrown money at free agents – the club rarely does – like big-market clubs or made substantial trades, so the Guardians will again rely on a solid starting rotation led by Shane Bieber, third baseman Jose Ramirez’s always-productive batter. and hope some young players develop quickly to be competitive in the AL Central.
That’s the plan, anyway. It worked before.
“We need guys to take advantage of the opportunities that are available to them,” team president Chris Antonetti said during the camp in Arizona. “And to the extent that they’re able to do that, we think it could be an exciting year.”
Something has to get things going for the Guardians, who have had a splash-free offseason.
Although the Indians’ team name change was finalized after last season, it still doesn’t sit well with some Cleveland fans. Additionally, the club’s failure to update the roster this winter – after the team’s first losing season in nine years – has heightened criticism of owner Paul Dolan.
Antonetti said the team went for free agency, but missed it.
Beyond its fan base, the Guardians snapped photos of Giants outfielder Joc Pederson — he was on Cleveland’s radar — and White Sox pitcher Dallas Keuchel, who directed their remarks to the Guardians and other teams who don’t spend.
The backlash was nothing new for Antonetti.
“I probably shouldn’t be in the chair I’m in if I’m too sensitive to criticism,” he said. “It doesn’t really impact us. I think we are focused on what we can do best for our organization.
“Our goals have not changed. If I were to ask you what our payroll was in 2016, nobody cares. What they remember is that we played in Game 7 of the World Series. Our focus is on how to find a way to win this final game.
Things are already looking up for Cleveland. Manager Terry Francona is back after being sidelined for most of the past two seasons with serious health issues.
As they get more familiar with their new name, the Guardians will face some growing pains in 22 – maybe a lot of them.
Another bright spot is Bieber, the 2020 Cy Young winner. He has made a full recovery after making just 16 starts last season due to a shoulder strain.
The 26-year-old anchors a starting line-up of Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac, Triston McKenzie and Cal Quantrill, which went 7-1 in the second half of last season.
Bieber is under contract with the Guardians until 2024, and while the team is keen to sign the right-hander for a long-term extension, there doesn’t seem to be much momentum for that to happen.
Ramirez has established himself as one of the best all-around players in baseball, and it might be time he got paid like that.
The 29-year-old has expressed an interest in spending his entire career in Cleveland, and his reps have spoken to the Guardians about it.
Ramirez will earn $26 million over the next two years, an absolute steal for a three-time star player who affects play at home plate, in the field and on base.
RECRUIT TO WATCH
Steven Kwan puts the bat on the ball, and that does a lot for Francona.
“In an age of baseball where the swing and misses are pretty prevalent, there’s not much missing,” Francona said. “It’s really refreshing.”
Kwan, 24, has had an impressive spring and could make the opening day roster. Kwan hit a combined .328 at double- and triple-A last season, and the Guardians believe the 5-foot-9, 170-pound can help them now.
“When you look at him, it’s easy to short him, maybe when you look at his stature. But if you can get past that, (Dustin) Pedroia seemed to find a way to do it,” Francona said, making reference to former Boston All-Star infielder “I know not everyone can do it, but there are guys who can still be good players. Steven is going to be one of those guys.