Lloyd: Shane Bieber, Guardians and their uncertain future together

Now that we know Jose Ramirez and the Guardians will live happily ever after, there’s another, more complicated, negotiation looming over this franchise: Shane Bieber.

I believe the Guardians will have to trade Bieber. The question is when?

First, a history lesson and some dot-connecting.

A few months after he won a Cy Young with the Rays in 2018, Blake Snell was rewarded with a five-year, $ 50 million extension. The deal, which bought out all three of his arbitration years and his first season of free agency, was the largest contract ever awarded to a player who hadn’t yet reached arbitration.

Of course, the Rays being the Rays, Snell was dealt less than a year after signing the agreement. Nevertheless, it was a massive financial commitment from a franchise not known for signing players to big-money deals.

After Bieber won his Cy Young in 2020, I assumed his big dollar extension would be forthcoming. After all, Bieber wasn’t a high first-round draft pick and therefore didn’t cash in on a multi-million dollar signing bonus the likes of which allowed Francisco Lindor and Trevor Bauer to both dismiss contract discussions and eye free agency while they were in Cleveland. No, I thought Bieber would be different.

Two years later, however, he remains without an extension. According to one source with knowledge of the Guardians’ thinking, it wasn’t for a lack of trying. The team presented Bieber with a significant extension that far surpassed the deal Snell signed with the Rays, I was told. Bieber rejected it.

More and more players are rejecting the security of long-term deals early in their careers and opting instead of waiting for a free agency. Now that Bieber is making $ 6 million this year in his first season of arbitration, the urgency for him to sign a long term is diminishing. He is finally starting to make real money by baseball’s standards.

Now the dot-connecting: Bieber, who will turn 27 on May 31, is a client of Drew Rosenhaus, the football mega agent who expanded into baseball a few years ago. Bieber is easily the firm’s biggest baseball client and is featured prominently on the baseball page of the Rosenhaus Sports Representation website.

Dennis Wyrick is the president of baseball operations at Rosenhaus Sports and is Bieber’s direct agent. Wyrick came up in the business under Scott Boras, the agent who famously encourages all of his clients to pursue free agency rather than sign away years of control too early.

It’s easy to see where all of this is headed.

The only reason the Guardians got something done with Ramirez is that he went against his agent’s advice and insisted on taking a below-market deal just for the stability of remaining in Cleveland. It was a rare act from a player and one few others in his position would make.

Theoretically, a Bieber extension at this point from the Guardians’ perspective would buy out his last two years of arbitration and his first year of free agency. Ramirez is on the books for $ 17 million in 2024 – Bieber’s final year of arbitration – and $ 19 million in 2025. Given what we know about the Guardians’ payroll, does anyone believe they can afford to give that much to Ramirez and pay the market rate for Bieber while still having enough left over to field a competitive team around them?

Short of a drastic cash infusion at the ownership level, it all seems unlikely.

Bieber has two years of control remaining beyond this season. It’s unrealistic to believe they’d allow a Cy Young winner to just walk in a free agency and get nothing for him, meaning they’re about to embark on the same “should we or shouldn’t we?” discussions that hung over Lindor’s final years in Cleveland.

It had become evident by the time Lindor reached arbitration he wasn’t going to take a discounted, team-friendly deal. The team came close to trading him before the 2020 season when he had two years of control remaining, but it ultimately chose to hold onto him and make another run at contention.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and changed everything. In hindsight, the team should’ve traded Lindor in 2020, but who could’ve predicted a pandemic?

Had Ramirez not worked so hard to get a deal done last month, he could be in a different uniform by now. He had two years left on his old deal and trade talks were intensifying when he called the Guardians and pushed to get something done.

After this season, the Guardians will have just two years of control over Bieber.

Of course, on-field performance matters. The Guardians are .500 and hanging around the division race despite being so young, and next year might throw open another contention window. Is that the time to trade a staff like and Cy Young winner? Hardly. This also is an organization already overflowing with prospects on the cusp of the majors, so holding onto Bieber and making a push for the pennant might make the most sense knowing full well the diminishing returns they’ll eventually receive on any deal – such as the eventual Lindor trade.

One caveat to all of this, the one component that could turn this whole thing relatively quickly, is Bieber’s health and performance. He missed three months last season with a strained shoulder, and when he returned late in September, baseball had banned pitchers from using any sticky substances on the balls.

Bieber hasn’t been the same pitcher this year. He’s had just one poor outing, which was his last start against Toronto, but the outlying numbers are concerning. He has the fourth-steepest drop in fastball velocity compared to March and April of last year, according to The Athletic‘s Eno Sarris. Bieber also has one of the steepest declines this year in Sarris’ innovative Stuff + metric, which studies the physical metrics of a pitch (spin, movement and velocity).

Biggest Declines in Fastball Velocities

Player Team 22 FA mph 21 April FA mph Difference

Twins

89.4

91.9

-2.5

Mariners

93.2

95.3

-2.1

Cardinals

88.3

90.3

-2.0

Guardians

91.3

93.2

-1.9

Mets

92.6

94.5

-1.9

Red Sox

93.2

95.0

-1.8

Phillies

95.8

97.6

-1.8

Dodgers

92.8

94.4

-1.6

Phillies

92.1

93.6

-1.5

Fathers

92.4

93.9

-1.5

Ultimately, productivity and recording outs are all that matter. He can pass on a long-term extension now and bet on himself as so many pitchers before him have done and been rewarded for it financially.

There are warning signs the other way, however, too. Mike Clevinger was unable to come to terms on a long-term extension in Cleveland, was traded to San Diego and almost immediately was forced to undergo a second Tommy John operation on his right elbow. At least Clevinger signed a two-year deal worth $ 11.5 million with the Padres that took him through surgery and rehab. Clevinger, now healthy, will be a free agent after the season and trying to cash in for the first time in his career.

Before Clevinger, Justin Masterson could not come to terms on a new contract with Cleveland. Then shoulder problems and a dip in velocity forced him out of baseball before he could ever cash in on a lucrative long-term deal.

There is a risk for both sides. For now, the Guardians have a former Cy Young winner and one of the best pitchers in baseball on a bargain contract. Important decisions are looming, however. For both of them.

(Photo of Shane Bieber: Nick Cammett / Diamond Images via Getty Images)

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