Veteran right-hander Shane Bieber is expected to make his first big-league start since July 9 on Friday against the Baltimore Orioles, according to MLB.com. Bieber, who made his most recent rehab start on Sunday, has been sidelined for the past two-plus months because of right elbow inflammation.
Bieber, 28, had started 19 times before hitting the shelf, accumulating a 3.77 ERA (111 ERA+) and a 2.88 strikeout-to-walk ratio. While those are respectable marks in general, they fall beneath his norms. (For Bieber's career, he's compiled a 131 ERA+ and a 4.98 strikeout-to-walk ratio.) Additionally, he had allowed a career-worst average exit velocity against and had generated the lowest rate of whiffs on his four-seam fastball.
It's worth wondering how much of Bieber's statistical decay can be attributed to his physical ailment, and how much can be attributed instead to real decline. The Guardians, for their part, may not stick around to find out the answer. Bieber had already populated trade rumors prior to going on the injured list, and his impending free agency after next season gives the Guardians additional incentive to pursue a trade this winter if they want to fetch a return.
Of course, the Guardians might decide they'd prefer to at least open next year with Bieber in tow -- especially if they intend to compete for a playoff berth. Should the season get out of hand, they may reason, they could always trade him at the deadline or recoup draft-pick compensation if/when he left through free agency. Still, it should surprise no one if the Guardians take the marketplace's temperature on Bieber over the coming months.
The Guardians entered Thursday with a 72-81 record on the year, putting them nine games back of the American League Central-leading Minnesota Twins. The next Guardians loss or Twins win will eliminate Cleveland from postseason contention.