Rough outing raises questions about Bieber's future with Guardians

June 24th, 2023

CLEVELAND -- There have been plenty of confusing aspects to the Guardians' season thus far, but 's future with the club may be at the top of the list.

As we draw closer to the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline, the spotlight becomes brighter on Cleveland’s ace. When he pitches like he did in the first five innings in Cleveland’s 7-1 loss to the Brewers on Friday night at Progressive Field, his trade value can only skyrocket.

But when he hits hiccups like he did in the sixth inning, giving up two quick hits before a three-run blast that prompted his exit from the game, more questions get thrown into the mix.

The Guardians have had conversations with Bieber in the past regarding contract extensions, but with the 28-year-old righty set to hit free agency after the 2024 season, it seems all but certain that Bieber will soon be in another uniform. Will that be during the summer? Will it wait until the winter?

There’s a lot to unpack here.

Step 1: Does he make the Guardians a more competitive team?
First, Cleveland needs to determine if it’s realistic to be contenders this season.

The expectations were through the roof coming into 2023 after an impressive and unexpectedly successful season last year. But the club was still the youngest in the Majors on Opening Day and the growing pains have been more visible this season than last.

The Guardians are three games under .500, yet they’re still only trailing the first-place Twins by two games. Because the AL Central has been largely uncompetitive, it seems feasible to think Cleveland could remain a contender for the division title no matter what happens. But can this team make a playoff run beyond AL Central opponents?

If the Guardians think they’ll be contenders, they have to determine if Bieber plays a bigger role in their success or if he could instead bring them some offensive pieces that will help take them to the next level.

If the rotation will get worn down without him, especially with so many young arms, maybe a bat or two wouldn’t serve as big of a purpose. But if the pitching staff can handle losing him, this offense certainly could use some help.

Step 2: What is Bieber's trade value?
Let’s say the Guardians determine it’s worth trading Bieber now. The next question becomes: What’s his trade value?

Overall, Bieber still has been a reliable starter this season. He owns a 3.69 ERA and has completed at least six innings in 11 of his 16 outings. He’s also a much-needed veteran presence for a young rotation. But his peripheral numbers haven’t indicated that he’s trending in the right direction.

For example, before he had his eight-K night on Friday, his strikeout rate sat at 17.5%, which was down 7.5% from last year. Only Andrew Heaney (10.9%) and Cristian Javier (10.2%) had seen larger drops in their K% (min. 60 IP in each season).

But then, Bieber cruised through the first four innings, racking up eight strikeouts. His peripheral numbers are concerning. His actual stats aren’t. The Guardians have proven time and time again that once they determine what they believe their player is worth, they will not move him for a penny less.

If other teams won’t match whatever demand Cleveland would have, it’s doubtful conversations will get too far.

If other teams are concerned about some of these underlying trends in Bieber’s numbers, maybe a contender isn’t willing to part ways with some Major League ready bats that Cleveland would target. But if a contending team sees what he’s been able to produce this year, then maybe it’ll be worth making a trade.

The confusion continues.

Step three: But what about Triston McKenzie?
Two weeks ago, this debate could’ve ended after the first two steps.

But now, the Guardians are really relying on their younger pitchers. Gavin Williams has never thrown more than 115 innings in a season before. Tanner Bibee and Logan Allen have both maxed out at 132 2/3 frames.

It would’ve been easier to manage their workloads if Aaron Civale, Triston McKenzie and Cal Quantrill would all be in the rotation. But now that McKenzie is down for at least four to six weeks, he’s out of commission for the foreseeable future. That means more innings will fall on the shoulders of the young hurlers who haven’t had that experience just yet.

Maybe they’d all be able to handle it. But it goes to show that the question: “Should the Guardians trade Shane Bieber,” is much more than a "yes" or "no" answer.