Sure, it’s still too early to call this Cleveland Guardians season dead on arrival. But the Guardians are still playing the wrong kind of disgusting baseball. Cleveland is more than 50 games into the season, is currently 25-30 overall, and firmly three spots behind the Minnesota Twins for first place in the AL Central. On offense, the Guardians share company in nearly every hitting category with the disappointing San Diego Padres and the hapless Oakland A’s. Sure, pitching-wise, Cleveland is the seventh-best team in baseball – holding teams to just a shade under four runs per game. But if the offense isn’t juiced to match the defense, it’s a vicious, endless cycle of mediocrity.
There’s plenty of blame, and much of the frustration can be directed at Mike Zunino, who hasn’t clicked at catcher as many had hoped. If the team continues down this track, there’s a good possibility that the Guardians could fully embrace their youth movement and become sellers at the annual trade deadline. When viewing this ballclub through the lens of a seller, one name that instantly comes to mind is Gold Glove-winning pitcher Shane Bieber. Sure, ESPN MLB insider Buster Olney did say that Bieber would likely be untraded leading up to the deadline. But let’s be frank, Bieber’s star is fading, and the longer the Guardians wait to move on, the less value he’ll have to anyone.
Bieber, unfortunately, is no longer the AL Cy Young winner he was two years ago. His speed on his pitches has fallen off to the low 90s. Bieber’s strikeouts have gone down drastically since 2020, and sure, he’s still effective, with a 2.88 ERA last year and a 3.72 ERA this season. Like other pitchers, he’s been adjusting to baseball’s newly-implemented pitch clock. Unfortunately, Bieber’s losing velocity along the way showed that the shoulder injury was slightly more severe than expected.
Compared to his breakout season in 2019 or those 12 award-winning starts in 2020, Bieber has been almost unrecognizable. Sure, pitchers sometimes have to reinvent themselves, but not always by choice. Bieber’s shoulder injury in 2021 has thrown a wrench into his progress toward becoming a budding superstar. He recently told The Athletic‘s Zach Meisel that he’s trying to “adapt and survive” while adjusting and reinventing his game. Hopefully, Bieber can reach that point by August or September, but it might not be with the team he began his professional career with.
It can be tough to process if you’re a Bieber or Guardians fan. But sports are a business, and Cleveland has star rookie pitchers in Hunter Gaddis and Tim Herrin that are currently better than Bieber. Of course, there’s also Tanner Bibee and Logan Allen as well. Additionally, Aaron Civale is set to rejoin the Guardians on Friday against the Baltimore Orioles while Triston McKenzie is expected to return soon after. Again, Cleveland’s greatest strength right now is its pitching. Some days, it’s all they can really lean on. But with strong pitching from nearly everywhere, Bieber becomes much more expendable for the Guardians, especially when his luster dulls.
A lot of this, again, has to do with the fact that the Guardians are trending toward becoming a firesale team the closer things get to the trade deadline. Teams with legitimate World Series aspirations always feel they’re one piece away from winning it all – especially when looking to add the final piece to their pitching rotation. Cleveland can easily sell high if Bieber thrives after adapting his game to his new situation. But, if he continues to struggle, the Guardians can try to sell on the mystique of Bieber that still surrounds him whenever he shows flashes of stardom.
There’s also the elephant in the room that Bieber will be a free agent after the 2024 MLB season. Considering they’ve now avoided arbitration two years in a row, unless both sides somehow agree on an extension it feels incredibly unlikely that Bieber will stick around in Cleveland long-term. So, it might be time for the Guardians to strike while the iron is hot and trade Bieber to a team with World Series aspirations.
Sure, there has been a lot of criticism of Bieber throughout this story and how his fit doesn’t make sense for Cleveland’s long-term vision. Nevertheless, the former rising star hasn’t lost control of the ball despite the diminishing power of some of his throws. It’s tough, but at this point, it makes sense for the Guardians to shed talent and further embrace their youth movement.
A lot of starts and ends with moving on from Bieber.
Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can also be found three to five times weekly on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.
Did you enjoy this story from Right Down Euclid? Then you should become a paid supporter of the website. Every dollar goes right back into making fully independent Cleveland sports coverage possible.