As the rumors regarding Shane Bieber continue to swirl, I want to offer what I believe to be some reasonable mock trades to consider as we wait to see what happens.
Recently, Bieber has been rumored in connection to the Cubs, Reds, Dodgers and Padres, with varying levels of seriousness. In all reality, any team planning to compete in 2024 with any possibility of payroll flexibility has undoubtedly made a call to the Guardians regarding Bieber’s availability.
From my personal perspective, because of Triston McKenzie’s uncertain elbow status, I would not trade Shane Bieber unless the team was overwhelmed with a deal. However, I recognize that the Cleveland front office has to work within the payroll restraints they are given by Cleveland ownership. If, as rumored, payroll stays around last year’s level of $89 million, the value of moving the $12-13 million of that money that Bieber will be set to receive so that the team can address other needs may be significant enough to add to the urgency to get a deal done. Additionally, the acquiring team has the possibility of receiving a compensation pick if Bieber leaves in free agency after the 2024 season if they acquire him prior to the year: an additional value that is removed if Bieber is dealt once the season begins. And, of course, beginning the season with Bieber in Cleveland leaves the Guardians to bear the risk of him getting hurt again and ending up paying him the $12-13 million without being able to recoup any value in a trade.
Because Cleveland has a limited budget, I think we can assume they will be trying to acquire pre-arbitration talent in the Shane Bieber deal. I think we can also assume that, ideally, they want to find a young hitter or two, if possible. I also suspect that if a deal gets done, it happens in the next couple weeks.
Before I present some mock trades for you to debate and dissect, a couple of guiding principles:
1. I’m not going to go down the three-team possibility road nor am I going to consider including Emmanuel Clase or Josh Naylor in a Bieber deal. Of course, these are theoretical possibilities of varying levels of likelihood but they are more remote than trading Bieber straight-up or including a prospect with him.
2. I am going to make Angel Martinez the go-to “trade with Bieber” option. I think Martinez is being overlooked by a lot of Guardians’ fans and Baseball Trade Values has him with some healthy value, so it works for the purposes of this exercise. *It may turn out that a given team prefers Gabriel Arias, Brayan Rocchio, Tyler Freeman, Jose Tena, Juan Brito or George Valera to Martinez, or maybe they prefer a reliever like Cody Morris, Cade Smith, Nick Sandlin, James Karinchak or Franco Aleman, which may increase or decrease the overall return. That’s a lot of factors to consider, so, for the purposes of our exercise, Martinez will be the consistent “accompanying prospect to increase the trade’s return” factor.*
3. I am using Baseball Trade Values to evaluate these mock trades. I fully recognize the limits of the site as the prospect values are often shaky and the affects of payroll on varying teams are hard to quantify, not to mention that the site can’t really offer the contextual information of what each team’s needs are. With that said, I think it’s still the best publicly available tool for evaluating trades that the baseball public has, and, when trades have occurred in the past two years, the site’s values are usually very close to the actual names that have been exchanged.
4. I’m going to lean toward the Guardians only trading Bieber if they get something that is an overpay. I am not going to say they have to be overwhelmed, because I think the payroll issues are putting some level of pressure on the front office to deal their staff ace.
Finally, although there are several spots where I think BTV is off in their evaluations of players, for the purpose of this exercise, I’m including their values and doing the best that I can to match them up.
Mock Trade 1: Shane Bieber and Angel Martinez (14.5 in BTV value) to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Jorge Barrosa, RH OF, Slade Cecconi, RH SP and full rights for Deyvison De Los Santos (approximately 12.8 in BTV value)
Analysis: Even though Baseball Trade Values doesn’t think so, I think this may be the best of the potential deals I’ve found. The Guardians get the full rights of Deyvison De Los Santos and his prodiguous power so they can let him develop at Columbus, they get a back of the rotation starter who should be able to help now in 24 year old Slade Cecconi (80-grade name), and a very good outfield, 22 year-old switch-hitting prospect with centerfield potential in Jorge Barrosa (whom I believe BTV is wildly underrating). It makes sense to try to get De Los Santos’s full rights, so, hey, Antonetti, figure this one out.
Mock Trade 2: Shane Bieber and Angel Martinez (14.5) to the Chicago Cubs for Kevin Alcantara, RH OF (16.3)
Analysis: Ok, you got me, I’ll admit it. I love Kevin Alcantara, 21 year old, 6’6” outfielder who runs like a gazelle and has shown signs of getting all his levers to work so he can hit for some power. If the Guardians could trade Bieber and a piece and end up with a player like Alcantara, I’d be pretty thrilled. But, it’s notable that you can’t really expect Alcantara to help the major league team, where he profiles well as a centerfielder, until late 2024 at the absolute earliest. It would be interesting to try to expand this deal and land the oft-rumored Christopher Morel and other prospect pieces (Brent Brown?), but I suspect that might have to involve Guardians’ closer Emmanuel Clase.
Mock Trade 3: Shane Bieber, Angel Martinez and relief pitcher of choice not named Clase, Barlow or Hentges (14.5) to the Cincinnati Reds for Christian Encarnacion-Strand, 1B/OF (21.5)
Analysis: I’ve violated my one rule here as I’m confident it would take a good relief pitcher to add to this deal to get it done. The Guardians and Reds don’t match up super well, so if a deal gets done, I’d expect the Guardians to target either Encarnacion-Strand or T.J. Friedl. I don’t think the Reds can afford to trade Friedl and open up centerfield, currently, so Encarnacion-Strand it is. Can he play right field? He’s played 22 professional outfield innings. It’s an open question. In this scenario, we are grateful for the right-handed pop and we’re about to find out about the outfield ability.
Mock Trade 4: Shane Bieber and Angel Martinez (14.5) to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Miguel Vargas, RH IF/OF (19.1)
Analysis: This is one of the few times I have managed to acquire a major league player in a mock trade. And, the reason I think it’s possible is because 24 year old Miguel Vargas has a limited ceiling. He’s likely a 2-3 win player who will be fine in left-field and will put up somewhere around 110 wRC+. If you’re not betting on ceiling with a prospect who hasn’t shown what he can do in the majors, this is probably the kind of major league player one year of Shane Bieber coming off of an injury is going to fetch you. Shifting Steven Kwan to center, playing Vargas in left and platooning Ramon Laureano and one of Will Brennan, George Valera or Anthony Rivas in right field improves the Guardians for 2024 and Vargas helps in the years to come... but is it enough of a tradeoff for trading Bieber and a good prospect? I say no, myself.
Mock Trade 5: Shane Bieber and Angel Martinez (14.5) to the Seattle Mariners for Michael Morales, RH SP, Jonatan Clase, SH OF, and Gabe Speier, LH RP (20.5)
Analysis: I just can’t bring myself to imagine the Guardians trading with Seattle President of Baseball Operations Jerry DiPoto and not getting a notable overpay, so that’s what I’ve given them here. So, you get a 21 year old with back of the rotation potential in Morales, a 21 year old with clear starting centerfielder potential and a little pop in Clase (and he’s made it to Double-A), and a very good, 28 year-old left-handed reliever ready to help at the end of games now. And, the thing is... I can see that this is an overpay because I imagine Mariners fans would be very upset at having traded Speier. I hope you can start to see how tough these deals are to make.
Mock Trade 6: Shane Bieber and Angel Martinez (14.5) to the New York Mets for Jett Williams RH IF/OF and Blade Tidwell, RH SP (22.7)
Analysis: Williams made Double-A last season as a 20 year old and he has 70 grade speed and some power potential, but is only 5’ 6”, so there are some concerns as to whether he will get to that potential. If he does, maybe you have a some small guy pop in centerfield or even on the infield. If not, he’s a bench player. Tidwell was in Double-A as a 22 year old and has put up double-digit strikeout rates with a great fastball-slider combo, but he struggles with command as most 22 year-old’s do. Both are interesting prospects who might be a starting centerfielder and a #3 starter... or a 26th man and a long relief guy. Such is the risk of deals revolving around prospects (and you can see that BTV thinks this is a fairly significant overpay).
Mock Trade 7: Shane Bieber and Angel Martinez (14.5) to the Atlanta Braves for JR Ritchie, RHSP, Owen Murphy, RHSP, and Jesse Franklin, LH OF (14.9)
Analysis: Ritchie is a VERY interesting 20 year-old pitcher who has thrown a grand total of 23 innings at Single-A, but, hey, he has front of the rotation potential. Owen Murphy is a 20 year old at High-A and has middle of the rotation potential with some excellent breaking balls. Franklin is a corner-outfield profile with some middle-of-the-order upside that he hasn’t come anywhere close to reaching yet as he labors at Double-A. Does this not sound exciting, Guardians fans? Well, I guarantee Braves fans would call this a huge overpay, if that helps you feel better. Plus, we’re going to spend the savings on Bieber, remember?!? I suspect, for what it’s worth, that the accompanying piece with Bieber would probably be a reliever Atlanta likes who can help their team now, not Martinez.
Mock Trade 8: Shane Bieber and Angel Martinez (14.5) to the Los Angeles Angels for Brandon Drury, RH IF/OF, Caden Dana, RHSP, and Jose Soriano, RHRP (11.5).
Analysis: This is the only deal in which I’ve allowed myself to take back significant salary. IF Brandon Drury can be played in left field, and I think he can, this saves the Guardians about $3 million. However, it deals with a middle of the lineup issue and a hitting lefties issue in Drury while giving your outfield prospects another year to develop, it gives you an interesting 19 year-old pitcher who struck out 12 batters per 9 at High-A last season, and it gives you a 24 year old piece for the backend of your bullpen NOW in Soriano (3.64 ERA and 12 K’s/9 in 42 innings for the Angels last year). To be honest, I think this is one of the best possible returns the Guardians could possibly expect. And, the logic of it makes sense for both teams to me (with the caveat that the Angels may prefer Arias, Rocchio, Freeman, or Tena).
Mock Trade 9: Shane Bieber and Angel Martinez (14.5) to the San Diego Padres for Graham Pauley, LH 3B/OF, Ryan Bergert, RH SP, Jhony Brito, RH SP (14.10)
Analysis: It is VERY hard to find a good fit with San Diego because the Padres are also in desparate need of outfield help. The strength of their system is pitching, so I have had the Guardians land a 23 year old Double-A pitcher in Bergert who had a 2.68 ERA and 10.43 K/9, a guy who looks like a good back of the rotation starter now in the 25 year-old Brito and Pauley who profiles as a guy who can hit in the middle of the order and play infield or outfield corners, having reached Double-A as a 22 year old last year. This would be a good return, but Pauley probably isn’t helping the major league team until the end of 2024 at the earliest (and, again, the Padres might prefer Valera to Martinez in this deal, which is fine).
Mock Trade 10: Shane Bieber and Angel Martinez (14.5) to the Boston Red Sox for Wilyer Abreu, LH OF, and Wikelman Gonzalez RH SP (13.5)
Analysis: The Guardians acquire, here, a major league strongside of the platoon 24 year old outfielder in Abreu and 21 year-old Double-A pitcher in Gonzalez who had a 2.42 ERA and 11.73 K/9 last season. Again, this is a really good return that I think Red Sox fans would balk at, it does help the major league team now and in the future, but I suspect Guardians fans would say it’s not enough. I think if this deal was made, the Guardians would go pursue another right-handed stick who crushes lefties.
I’ve tried my hand at it, so now it’s your turn! Let me know in the comments below which deals you like, which you dislike, and what alternatives you can come up with. We’ll see if Bieber gets dealt or not, but, if you’re like me, it’s fun just to have some ideas and names to ponder.