Saturday, February 24 2024
Cleveland Guardians manager Terry Francona, left, bumps fists with starting pitcher Shane Bieber, right, before the team's game Wednesday against the Cincinnati Reds in Cleveland.

DETROIT — Shane Bieber wanted to use the last few weeks of the regular season as a jumping off point heading into an offseason program in what will be a winter with him firmly enmeshed in baseball’s hot stove.

If he’s able to make the progress he’d like to, the question is what team might benefit from it in 2024.

Bieber was the center of trade rumor speculation for a short time before the trade deadline, but those possibilities were erased when he hit the injured list with an elbow injury. The 2024 season will be his last year of arbitration eligibility before he can become a free agent and hit the open market a little more than a year from now.

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The Guardians’ three rookie starters — Gavin Williams, Tanner Bibee and Logan Allen — who all played a key role in 2023 will be a part of next year’s starting rotation. All three have already been shut down for the season because of injures or innings limits.

The team will also have Triston McKenzie (assuming his own offseason program as part of his rehabilitation from a UCL sprain goes well) and Cal Quantrill as options. Xzavion Curry could possibly figure into that mix as a sixth option, but he could also be headed back to a bullpen role.

For an organization that has long straddled the line between today and tomorrow, it leaves Bieber as an obvious, potential trade target as he enters his final year of club control.

Except, in order to trade him, Bieber and the Guardians likely need to be able to show that he’s healthy. He’ll end his 2023 season with only 128 innings and two starts recently after returning from the injured list. He pitched only 96⅔ innings in 2021 while battling shoulder issues.

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Wednesday night’s outing, his last of the season, was everything for which he and the Guardians had hoped. Bieber limited the Cincinnati Reds to one run on five hits in six innings. He struck out seven. And, perhaps just as importantly, his fastball velocity was effectively right in line with his 2023 average of 91.3 mph.

“I feel great. My arm feels really healthy,” Bieber said. “Coming back tonight, it was a step in the right direction. I was able to step on some fastballs a little bit more than normal, or a little bit more than last outing. I think there’s a lot more in there and I’m just continually making adjustments to get back to where I need to be.”

Cleveland Guardians pitcher Shane Bieber, left, meets with Akron RubberDucks catcher Micael Ramirez during the fourth inning of a minor league game Sept. 12 against the Altoona Curve in Akron.Cleveland Guardians pitcher Shane Bieber, left, meets with Akron RubberDucks catcher Micael Ramirez during the fourth inning of a minor league game Sept. 12 against the Altoona Curve in Akron.

Shane Bieber enters offseason before 2024 season with unknown future with Guardians

It’s uncertain where Bieber will be on opening day 2024. Perhaps the Guardians instead deal another pitcher and decide to hold onto Bieber. Perhaps the Guardians and Bieber can come to a long-term extension, though that would require a great deal of progress. Or, perhaps Bieber can prove that he’s healthy enough, and the Guardians lean even further into their pitching development by dealing their former Cy Young Award winner to either bolster their farm system or address other needs on the major league roster.

“Yeah, I think I’m in a unique spot right now, having been shut down for a few weeks and built up to this point,” Bieber said. “There’s a few discussions to be had in the next few days on what my program’s going to look like if I continue my ascension in terms of workload, or if we de-load.

“I’m going to let the cards fall where they may right now. I think the best option for me is to look internally and do what I can do to improve myself and stay on the right tack, both mechanically and as a competitor, moving into next year.”

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McKenzie is in a similar position, as he’ll also end up making two starts to close out the season. The last one will be Saturday in Detroit. The Guardians received a good showing from Bieber. They’re trying to go 2-for-2, if McKenzie feels and looks good against the Tigers.

“That’s why I was so happy for Biebs,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said in Detroit. “I guarantee you Biebs took a deep breath because that was a big deal for him and for the organization.”

Ryan Lewis can be reached at rlewis@thebeaconjournal.com. Read more about the Guardians at www.beaconjournal.com/sports/cleveland-guardians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Cleveland Guardians Shane Bieber enters offseason amid trade rumors

Source: Yahoo Sports

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