The Guardians have avoided arbitration with righty Shane Bieber, reports Kiley McDaniel of ESPN. The two sides agreed to a $13.125MM salary for the upcoming season, and his contract includes additional incentives based on Cy Young voting, a potential All-Star appearance and postseason awards voting. Bieber, a client of Rosenhaus Sports Management, is in his final season of club control before reaching free agency and has been a rumored trade candidate throughout the winter. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz had projected him for a $12.2MM salary.
Bieber’s 2023 season was slowed by injury and was quite arguably his worst since his rookie effort back in 2018. Of course, that’s only relative to the 2020 Cy Young winner’s lofty standards. Bieber still notched a tidy 3.80 ERA in 128 frames and averaged more than six innings per start. He was undeniably a solid starter — just not the clear-cut ace he once was.
Drilling down a bit deeper, Bieber’s 2023 performance carried plenty of red flags, even beyond the forearm and elbow troubles that limited him to 21 starts. The right-hander’s fastball velocity has been on the decline since his 2020 Cy Young win, but this past season’s 91.6 mph was a career-low mark that checked in nearly three miles per hour shy of his 2020 levels. Bieber whiffed a comical 41.4% of his opponents in 2020 but sat at less than half that mark in 2023, with a 20.1% strikeout rate.
Bieber still sports strong walk and ground-ball rates of 6.4% and 47.2%, respectively, but neither is elite. His swinging-strike rate, meanwhile, has plummeted from 17.1% in 2020 to 10.5% this year — below the league average. Bieber also logged career-worst marks in average exit velocity (91.6 mph) and hard-hit rate (47.2%), placing him in the second and third percentile of the league.
Concerns about the underlying numbers in his 2023 performance will probably drop Bieber’s trade value more than many onlookers would expect, but the $13.125MM salary is still a plenty affordable rate even if he continues to pitch more like a third or fourth starter than the front-of-the-rotation arm he once was. And, of course, given his impressive track record, there’s reason to believe he could rebound in 2024 — perhaps not all the way back to his peak levels but at least closer to his 2021-22 output. The demand for starting pitching far outpaces the supply of available arms as well, which will keep interest in Bieber robust.
The Guardians aren’t rebuilding, to be clear, but they’ve historically traded away their best players before they reach free agency — assuming an extension can’t be reached. Cleveland has shipped out Corey Kluber, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger, among others, as they’ve reached four and five years of service time in recent offseasons. In doing so, they’ve kept their farm stocked and been able to continually churn out quality arms thanks to their nearly unparalleled pitching development prowess. Whether the Guards trade Bieber this winter or hold him into the season, the long-term rotation outlook in Cleveland has turned over. Bieber’s time there is surely drawing to a close, and the future rotation will be anchored by the likes of Triston McKenzie, Tanner Bibee, Logan Allen and Gavin Williams.