The thought of the Cleveland Guardians trading Shane Bieber this offseason almost makes too much sense ont he surface. He'll be a free agent after the 2024 season and there's little hope Cleveland can - or will - sign him to an extension.
The Guardians also have some incredibly pressing needs in their lineup, and Bieber is a prime trade chip that could help immediately solve those issues.
But what if Cleveland went the other route and just... didn't trade Bieber?
The Case Against Trading Shane Bieber
It's true that we're not talking about the Shane Bieber of 2019 or 2020, when he won the Cy Young and was arguably the best pitcher in the American League. In the years since, Bieber has dealt with elbow/shoulder injuries and a staggering drop in velocity, which culminated in 2023 with the weakest strikeout numbers of his career. In his 128 innings over 21 starts this season, Bieber struck out just 107 batters.
Bieber was also hit harder than ever in 2023, and his xBA and xERA numbers weren't pretty, despite the surface-level 3.80 ERA and 3.87 FIP not looking too shabby. In other words, things could have gone a lot worse for him this past year, and there's no real reason to believe Bieber's velocity will magically return in 2024.
That being said, Bieber is still an incredibly valuable pitcher with great control and any team would jump at the chance to acquire him. But at this point, signing him beyond 2024 likely wouldn't come at the exorbitant cost most people expected a season or two ago.
So yes, despite your misgivings about Guardians ownership, there is a very real possibility Bieber could still sign an extension with Cleveland, possibly before next season starts (the team loves announcing extensions right around spring training).
But even if the Guardians don't re-sign Bieber before the 2024 season, that doesn't mean all hope is lost to get it done. And if Cleveland does offer Bieber a qualifying offer and he signs elsewhere, a compensatory pick would be coming back - and probably a pretty good one at that.
And let's assume the Guardians have designs on actually competing for the AL Central next season as well. Wouldn't you rather have Bieber as a part of the rotation, which is still chock-full of young pitchers who will have to navigate that often-perilous second season in the big leagues? This past season was a prime example of the pressing need for having as much pitching depth as humanly possible.
There are plenty of enticing trade scenarios out there surrounding Bieber, but this is also a great offseason in terms of outfielder depth and available players who might just fit Cleveland's range. A few of those outfielders have been covered here before, but there is also Michael Brantley, Joc Pederson, Joey Gallo, Adam Duvall, Randal Grichuk, and, well, you get the idea. The opportunity to bring in a few veteran bats to fill in the lineup is there, just staring the Guardians in the face. And they've got plenty of runway to beef up the payroll - trading Bieber isn't the absolute necessity it's sometimes made out to be.
This is even taking into account the projected $12 million Bieber could make in his final year of arbitration. Sure, that money could go towards signing an outfielder, but also... why not just do both? The Guardians had an $89 million payroll in 2023, which still gives them plenty of cushion heading into 2024, especially with what the team ultimately saved moving Josh Bell at the trade deadline over the summer.
The Cleveland Guardians certainly could trade Shane Bieber this offseason, and just about everybody in baseball wants them to do it. But what if Cleveland didn't and simply tried to go into 2024 with the best possible team it could put together, one that included Bieber?