Shane Bieber To Undergo Tommy John Surgery

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Guardians ace Shane Bieber will soon be undergoing a Tommy John surgery after experiencing elbow pain in each of his last two starts, the team announced. Bieber will miss the rest of the 2024 season and roughly half of the 2025 season, as per the usual recovery timeline for TJ procedures. As initially reported by MLB.com’s Mandy Bell, right-hander Peter Strzelecki has been called to take Bieber’s roster spot, now that the Guards have officially placed Bieber on the 15-day injured list. (He’ll inevitably be moved to the 60-day IL when Cleveland next needs to open a 40-man roster spot.)

The devastating news comes on the heels of an injury-shortened 2023 campaign for the right-hander, as Bieber was limited to 128 innings while missing about two and a half months due to elbow inflammation. He returned from the 60-day injured list to make two starts in late September, which seemingly indicated that the problem was behind him, and that Bieber could now look forward to a more normal offseason and ramp-up routine. However, as the Guardians’ statement indicates, Bieber had some discomfort in his elbow following his first start this year, and the problem continued through his next outing.

Certainly nothing appeared to be amiss in terms of results, given that Bieber looked completely dominant in tossing 12 shutout innings and recording 20 strikeouts (against just one walk and 10 hits allowed) over his two starts. This will now unfortunately mark the last we’ll see of Bieber on a big league mound for the next 13-15 months, and we might have already seen his final outing in a Cleveland uniform since he is a free agent this winter.

It counted as something of a surprise to see Bieber even still with the Guardians on Opening Day, given how it was widely assumed that the right-hander would be traded in advance of his walk year. The Guards have routinely traded star players within 12-18 months of free agency since the organization is rarely (Jose Ramirez notwithstanding) willing to pay the money necessary to sign such prominent names to contract extensions. As frustrating as this process has been for Cleveland fans, the front office’s track record in these trades has been pretty successful, and some of the players gained in those deals have helped the Guardians to remain competitive despite low payrolls.

If it wasn’t for his elbow issue last season, it is quite possible the Guards might’ve dealt Bieber at the last trade deadline. His health status surely impacted his trade value this past winter, as despite reports linking the Angels, Dodgers, Reds, Yankees, and Cubs to Bieber’s market, Cleveland wasn’t able to work out a deal with any of these (and undoubtedly many other) interested suitors. It’s easy to say now in the wake of Bieber’s Tommy John surgery that the Guardians should’ve moved him for whatever half-decent offer they received, though we don’t know what offers were on the table, and naturally the Guards weren’t keen on selling low on such a valuable trade asset.

There’s also the value of what Bieber brought to Cleveland’s own rotation, as the Guardians were hit with a lot of injuries to notable starters in 2023. The team’s outstanding pitching development pipeline helped cover this problem in impressive fashion with the emergence of Gavin Williams, Tanner Bibee, and Logan Allen, and going into this season, the idea of that young trio teaming with Bieber and the returning Triston McKenzie seemed like a promising step in the Guards’ plans to return to contention. However, Williams started the season on the 15-day IL due to elbow discomfort, and both Ben Lively and Xzavion Curry are also on the IL since a virus set the two pitchers back during Spring Training.

Veteran Carlos Carrasco has already stepped into the rotation in Williams’ place, and the Guardians will now have to hope for a quick recovery from either Lively or Curry with Bieber gone for the season. Jaime Barria is also a candidate to pick up starts in the short term, or Hunter Gaddis or Tyler Beede could be stretched out from their current relief roles, or used in a piggyback/bulk starter capacity.

A fourth-round pick in the 2016 draft, Bieber became the latest star product of the Cleveland pitching factory when he made his MLB debut in 2018, and then finished fourth in AL Cy Young Award voting in 2019. That breakout year led to Bieber winning the Cy during the shortened 2020 season, when he posted a 1.63 ERA over 77 1/3 innings. While the season’s abbreviated nature carries an obvious asterisk, it was just the 13th time in MLB history that a pitcher led the entire league in ERA, wins (eight), and strikeouts (122) in the same year.

Bieber hasn’t since returned to those heights, though he still has a 3.13 ERA in 436 2/3 innings from 2021-24, and he was an All-Star in 2021 and a seventh-place finisher in Cy Young Award voting in 2022. With this success came increasingly larger paydays throughout Bieber’s arbitration-eligible years, culminating in the arb-avoiding $13.125MM deal he signed for 2024. A big bounce-back season would’ve therefore set him up quite nicely for a pricey free agent contract in the 2024-25 offseason, especially if he could’ve avoided a qualifying offer via a midseason trade from the Guardians.

As it stands now, Bieber might have to wait quite some time to score a hefty multi-year commitment. Even if he pitches well after returning partway through the 2025 season, clubs might want to see a larger sample size of good health and good results before guaranteeing a nine-figure salary. Assuming then that Bieber pitched well and stays healthy throughout 2026, he might then have a safer track record….but teams could then be wary of Bieber’s age, since 2027 would be his age-32 season.

Under the circumstances, there is a chance the Guardians could yet retain Bieber into 2025, as unlikely as this scenario would’ve seemed even a few days ago. Cleveland might look to extend Bieber through the 2025 campaign or even both the 2025-26 seasons, on a low salary for 2025 and then the rest of the money backloaded into 2026. We’ve seen such contractual models used for other pitchers recovering from lengthy injury rehabs, most recently Brandon Woodruff’s two-year, $17.5MM deal to re-sign with the Brewers less than two months ago. If Bieber and the Guards had interest in such an arrangement, Bieber could complete his entire rehab in a familiar environment, and the Guardians could still get some benefit from having Bieber for part of 2025 and perhaps 2026.





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