If you’re a Cleveland Guardians fan, you know how this ends.
We will spend the offseason wondering about whether Shane Bieber will sign an extension or get traded, because he has reached the point in his career where that tends to happen in Cleveland. Tristan McKenzie is a year or two away from being in a similar situation. The playoffs that just ended for the Guardians showed that they have a puncher’s chance in any series in which Bieber and McKenzie start most of the games, so the idea of giving the current core at least one more year is intriguing.
Will Shane Bieber be with Cleveland Guardians in 2023?
But Bieber, at least, has amassed the sort of resume that gets pitchers paid at a rate which the Guardians simply won’t match. He will be a free agent after the 2024 season, and the five-year, $115 million deal that Robbie Ray signed with Seattle last year is probably where talks would begin. If Bieber would take that offer, there might be a chance for an extension, but he can argue that he is better than Ray (career WHIP of 1.097 vs 1.301) and will be a year younger when he hits free agency than Ray was. Bieber can realistically expect offers upwards of $30 million per year as a free agent, and that’s a price range that Cleveland doesn’t shop in.
This leaves the Guardians with the decision of whether to run things back one more year with the current core, or maximize the return from a Bieber trade by dealing him sooner rather than later. One could argue that the Guardians are one solid starter and one middle-of-the-order bat away from competing with the Astros and the Yankees. The farm system is still potent enough that reinforcements could come internally, either through promotions or trades. Sign someone like Jose Abreu to a short-term deal, hope that Daniel Espino and his electric arm are ready to contribute at some point next year, and use the farm system to provide depth throughout the roster, and suddenly this team looks like it can sustain this run for several years.
Losing Bieber would put a dent in that, but we thought the same about losing Kluber, Carrasco, Clevinger, and Bauer to some extent. The Guardians swapped Kluber for Emmanuel Clase, who is now one of the top closers in baseball. Carrasco was traded with Francisco Lindor for Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez, who formed the double play combo for this year’s team. Clevinger went to the Padres for a package that netted this season’s leading winner (Cal Quantrill), cleanup hitter (Josh Naylor), and starting catcher (Austin Hedges). Bieber is younger and pitching better than any of those pitchers were when they were traded, so fans can rightfully salivate at the sort of ransom that could be gotten if he is dealt.
Does that ransom leave the Cleveland Guardians in a better position to contend right now than keeping Shane Bieber for one more season? That would be a tough trick to pull off, but if the right package comes along, don’t rule it out.