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Figuring out a trade for Shane Bieber

A very, very rough guess on what a trade could look like

Cincinnati Reds v Cleveland Guardians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Last week, I looked at what it might cost to acquire Tyler Glasnow from the Rays. In fact, in my intro, I mentioned that there were two trade pitchers on the trade market who shouldn’t demand too high a price in prospects. And you may have thought I would have mentioned both pitchers, but the Glasnow section went longer than I anticipated and I scrapped the second guy I was planning to talk about. And then I didn’t fix my intro, although most of you probably could have guessed who the second guy was.

Shane Bieber

Contract: $12.2 million (estimated by MLBTR)

It’s weird to me that Glasnow, a pitcher who always gets hurt, is less complicated a situation than trading for Bieber, but well he is. We can be pretty sure how good Glasnow will be, just not sure how healthy he’ll be. And you can run an algorithm and figure out an expected innings and boom you have your value.

Bieber on the other hand, well he’s a lot less sure of a thing than he was a year ago. He was still a good pitcher and would definitely improve the Cardinals’ rotation and ignoring the potential cost of the prospects, is a very good gamble for just one year. On a rate basis, he was still about a 3 win pitcher and will be just 29 next year. Maybe not a guy you want to sign to a 6-year deal, but for one year? There’s still that ace potential in him maybe.

What makes Bieber more complicated than Glasnow, at least at this stage of the offseason is, his projection is a lot harder to estimate. Bieber pitched significantly worse than he was supposed to. He threw less innings than he was supposed to. A lot less. Since I usually estimate projections based on minor differences in stats versus projections, I’m going to have to look for comps. This is harder than you’d think.

I’ll have to start with expected performance and do innings later. I found two pitchers who similarly underperformed their projection: Lucas Giolito and Nathan Eovaldi. Specifically what the 2022 season did to both player’s original projection. Neither are perfect comps. Giolito, because of age and consistency, is a better comp, but undeniably pitched worse than Bieber did in 2022 and was and is much more durable. Eovaldi is too old, too inconsistent, and only reached Bieber’s heights for one season. But Eovaldi helps because he saw a huge innings drop from expected like Bieber.

Giolito’s expected performance in 2022 was 4.1 season in 174 innings. Given his age, and his consistency heading into that season, I suspect his 2023 projection was about 4 fWAR too honestly. That was certainly true of Bieber. Bieber came into this season with a 3.7 fWAR projection and a 3.6 fWAR 2024 projection, and that was only because of 6 less innings. ZiPS saw zero change in talent level from 2023 to 2024. After a 1.8 fWAR season (and 0.4 by RA/9), his projection for 2023 became 2.7 fWAR in 159 innings. If given 174 innings again, it would have been a 3 fWAR projection. With that said, I do think Giolito saw a sharper decline, so I don’t think I need to be quite that harsh with Bieber.

In the case of Eovaldi, his original projection was 3.2 WAR over 154 innings. After a 1 win season, his changed to 2.1 WAR over 126 innings. If given 154 innings again, that would have been a 2.6 WAR projection. A 0.6 WAR decline. So we’ll start with the “talent” change. Bieber should be expected to see a decline of between 0.6 and 1 win if given the same amount of innings as his original projection, which was 170 innings. We’ll split the difference and say 0.8. But he’s not going to have a 170 inning season.

Bieber has been hurt in a season before. He threw just 96 innings in 2021. Because he had a healthy track record up until that point, his 2022 innings projection was 139 innings. We can also look to Eovaldi. After his 109 inning season, his innings projection was 126 innings. Bieber has been healthier than Eovaldi and had more innings pitched in his most recent season (128). So I feel like a 145 inning projection is basically fair for Bieber. I would not be surprised if it’s a little lower though.

Okay so we have our talent level and we have our innings. Bieber was originally projected for 3.6 fWAR over 170 innings, and with a 0.8 decline, we’ll now say he’s a 2.8 fWAR pitcher over 170 innings. If you take that performance, but only have him pitch 150 innings, he’s a 2.4 fWAR pitcher. I’m making Bieber sound as unsexy a pickup as possible. In other words, very Cardinals.

That was a long road to figure out how value on the open market, which is approximately $24 million. He’s getting paid $12.2 million, or at least that is what he is expected to be paid. If the Cardinals trade him, his 2024 salary will probably be uncertain so his MLBTR projected arbitration price is about as good as an actual salary. This makes his surplus value $11.8 million.

What do the Guardians want? They are either going to want help to their major league team now, which would pretty much have to be in the form of an outfielder, or they want prospects. So let’s look at both options. The three MLB ready outfielders the Cardinals may want to trade leaves really just one option: they’re not going to want Alec Burleson. Josh Naylor is probably slated to be their full-time DH with Kyle Manzardo as their 1B. They won’t want O’Neill either. He’s only there for one season. Which leaves Dylan Carlson. Good luck figuring out his trade value, but it’s got to be more than one season of Shane Bieber.

According to former VEB writer Craig Edwards’ update to prospect valuation back in 2018, $11.8 million in surplus means not quite a top 100 prospect. If the Cardinals are giving back a prospect, we can pretty much rule out the infield. In addition to Manzardo, the Guardians also have Brayan Rocchio, the #36 prospect in baseball by Fangraphs, who has already played in 23 games. And the other two spots are occupied by Jose Ramirez and Andres Gimenez. If that weren’t enough, they also have two infielders on their 40 man who are top 10 prospects in their own system and a third guy they acquired in a trade who will be 21 in AA who was #11 in the Marlins’ system. They really are not going to be interested in an infielder.

Theoretically, there is a perfect fit, which is Victor Scott II, however I am personally on record - if you’ve listened to the podcast - as saying he should be valued as a top 100 prospect, so he’s out for me personally. You could honestly say the same exact thing for Thomas Saggese, although he’s technically an infielder. So by process of elimination, a starter’s got to go. And I actually have a good candidate: Gordon Graceffo. He’s technically not a top 100 prospect anymore I imagine, but I also don’t think he’s that far removed from being one either.

Back to Carlson, I can’t figure out a way to make his trade value not be so much more than Bieber in one season. I’m trying. The fact is that he’ll get paid peanuts and be roughly an average player at least. There’s no way to make that not valuable in a trade. Whether he actually has that value on the open market is another matter. But he should have that value.

My best attempt was to assume Carlson was a 2 WAR player for the next three years, but with a lower PA projection due to injuries the past two seasons, I assume he’s a 1.6 WAR player. And then on top of that, instead of adding up that value, his trade value is his performance over a 0.5 WAR player. I estimated his arbitration salaries as $1.8 million, $4.4 million, and $8.1 million. So overall a $33 million value with a $14.3 million price tag. (If he’s a 2 win or better player, his price tag will be higher, but then so will his performance). That landed me with a $18.7 million surplus. We’ll go with that.

Once again, I’m going the reliever route to make up the difference. I’m not sure the Carlson trade really makes sense from either side so I don’t see it happening, but this is the best I got from the “win now” Guardians if that’s the route they take with the trade. (If they are truly win now, O’Neill actually makes the most sense, but I still think they want more than one year from whoever they get)

Shane Bieber, Enyel De Los Santos for Dylan Carlson

Sort of an alternate offer involving Carlson:

Shane Bieber, Tommy Mace, Tyler Thornton for Dylan Carlson

Thornton is a 23-year-old reliever who struck out 40% of batters at both Low A and High A, but it dropped to 27.3% when he got to AA. Which is a problem because he walks 15% of batters. Huge swing and miss, halfway interesting reliever prospect. And Tommy Mace is a starting pitcher who has been old for his level at every stop and struggled when promoted to AA midseason. But I’m thinking of him as a future reliever with the potential for a 60 grade slider. The Guardians have a ton of starting pitching prospects who are not really prospects who might be interesting if move to reliever. Doesn’t have to be Mace, pick your SP prospect.

So like I said, this does not at all feel like a trade the Guardians would make so I don’t think the Carlson route is feasible. The prospect route though could work.

Shane Bieber for Gordon Graceffo

I could actually see the Guardians making this trade. For the Cardinals, it depends on their personal view of Graceffo. If they’re high on him, no way they make this trade. But if they don’t consider him a sure thing, they probably do.

Yes or no to these trade offers.