Shane Bieber Trade Return Looks Like Salary Dump Now, Guardians Could Hold

The Cubs have been connected quite strongly to the Guardians this offseason for a number of different players or packages, including Shane Bieber, Emmanuel Clase (here), and Josh Naylor (here). Even as a former Cy Young winner, Bieber represents the lowest return of the trio due to his higher projected salary, diminished performance, and single year of control. That said, he’s still a very competent pitcher who it was expected would net Cleveland decent value in trade.

According to Jeff Ellis of Locked On Guardians, however, there’s a growing sense that trading Bieber now would be “almost a salary dump.” It sounds as though interested teams are discounting the righty’s worth because he’s coming off of a rough 2023 and his standout performance came in the truncated 2020 campaign. As such, the packages Cleveland is being offered may provide less relative value than keeping Bieber in the rotation.

So rather than simply dumping Bieber just to trim his salary from the books, which is what might be the case based on current offers, it might behoove them to wait and see if he can bounce back. He’s working with Driveline this offseason, so it’s not at all unreasonable to expect an uptick in velocity and other stuff that would make him a hot commodity at the deadline.

For what it’s worth, Drew Smyly is also working with Driveline this winter to improve his pitch design. Most notably, he’s developing a splitter that Driveline’s Director of Pitching Chris Langin calls “such a weird fucking pitch” because it actually cuts a little.

I have no idea what Bieber is working on specifically, though I’d expect he’s tinkering with his breaking balls in addition to recapturing some of that lost velocity. His slider and curve don’t have much velo separation and tend to end up in similar locations around the lower glove-side corner, so maybe getting more depth on the curve and even slowing it down a little would help.

That’s probably not something teams are just going to take on faith, which brings us back to the idea of holding out for bigger offers. To that end, Ellis’s information could be part of the Guardians’ efforts to regain the leverage they’ve lost amid news that they may be about to lose their broadcast deal with Bally Sports Great Lakes entirely. Even if a potential streaming-rights partnership with Amazon goes through, Diamond Sports Group could drop its Guardians contract entirely before the 2024 season.

Might that be enough to tip the scales enough to where a salary dump makes more sense than waiting to see whether and how well Bieber bounces back? If I’m Jed Hoyer, I don’t think I’m waiting to find out. While I personally preferred Tyler Glasnow to Bieber when it seemed as though the Cubs were involved in conversations on both, I’m a big believer — Belieber? — in the potential Driveline bump.

It makes even more sense if there’s a way to expand the deal to include the reigning two-time AL saves leader or a very solid first baseman. As this thing drags out, it seems like the possibility to build a bigger swap is at least as much of a factor as just getting more for Bieber.

The Cubs have spent exactly $0 in free agency so far and they will need to make some noise on that front as well, but trades are probably necessary based on how Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins want to build their roster. At this point, we all just need something other than another minor-league deal to talk about.

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