The prospect of the Cleveland Guardians trading pitcher Shane Bieber seems like a foregone conclusion to most people around baseball.
In Cleveland's quest for more offensive firepower, particularly in the outfield, Bieber remains the team's most enticing trade chip, a front-line starter and former Cy Young winner with a wealth of experience, both in his obvious success and overcoming the adversity of injury and diminishing velocity (speaking of that diminishing velocity and injury history, one wonders how good a return Cleveland would even get for Bieber at this point).
But here's the thing. What if the Guardians just... didn't trade Bieber?
Let's assume the Guardians don't sign anyone of note the rest of the offseason, a very real possibility given the relative uncertainty of their television deal and the revenue they depend on. Even as things currently stand, there's a very good chance the 2024 outfield situation will be a lot more promising than we might think. The recent acquisition of Estevan Florial is intriguing, and Ramón Laureano figures to provide at least some consistency and production in the at-bats he does get. It's very possible guys like Johnathan Rodriguez and George Valera begin to see time at the major-league level as well in 2024.
And there's the other added possibility of Tyler Freeman or Josh Naylor even getting at-bats in the outfield. The infield remains a crowded mess, enhanced by the addition of Deyvison De Los Santos, who has to remain on the active roster all season. Freeman is an interesting addition to the outfield mix, but Naylor is the true game-changer there; anything he could potentially provide in the outfield would be tremendous, especially if it means highly-touted prospect Kyle Manzardo gets himself into the lineup at the same time.
So yeah, things are a little jammed up on the 40-man roster, though the counterargument is that it would be just as easy to find a spot for a veteran on a one-year deal (a point that is also certainly true). And if Cleveland does trade Bieber, will any newly acquired outfielder (hopefully, ideally) make up for what is lost within the rotation?
Pitching Remains the True Strength of the Guardians
It shouldn't come as any shock that the Guardians will, once again, have to rely on their stellar pitching staff to help them compete in the AL Central. That's also a problem almost every other team in baseball would like to be dealing with, so why should Cleveland hamper itself if it's not totally necessary?
The Guardians will be rolling into 2024 with a rotation that includes Bieber and Triston McKenzie, both coming off injury-plagued seasons. After that, the staff is anchored by young guns Tanner Bibee, Gavin Williams, and Logan Allen, though it's hard to say how any of them will fare in their sophomore seasons. It's doubtful the return on Bieber will be so magical and hard to resist that it's worth decimating the team's pitching depth. There is more uncertainty within the Guardians' starting rotation than people might believe at the moment.
Cleveland might be feeling the same way. The team did end up trading right-hander Cody Morris for Florial, which might end up being the far less exciting, headline-grabbing pitching deal the Guardians make this offseason. Who knows how much of a role Morris would have had with Cleveland next season, but it does potentially incentivize the Guardians to lean just a little bit closer to hanging on to Bieber for the time being.
Not trading Bieber before the season starts doesn't mean it won't happen eventually, either. There's always the trade deadline as well, where Cleveland's contention prospects will become much clearer. And if Bieber isn't moved at all, the Guardians could always make a qualifying offer next year, netting them another draft pick when Bieber inevitably signs elsewhere.
Though Shane Bieber offers the Guardians a slight chance to emerge from the hell that is their outfield's offensive production, there are plenty of reasons to consider keeping him into - and possibly even through - the 2024 season.
All I'm saying is don't bet the house on Bieber being moved.