Coming out of the All-Star Break, it was imperative that the Cleveland Indians make a statement facing off against the division-leading Minnesota Twins. The potential for a series win (or even a sweep) looked promising, as Cleveland had their three best pitchers lined up to start: Mike Clevinger, Trevor Bauer, and Shane Bieber.
Little went right during the first two games of the series, as the Indians lost both of matchups. The bullpen blew the first game, allowing four total runs in the seventh and eighth innings, as the Indians lost 5-3.
In the second game, Trevor Bauer allowed three runs in the first two innings, but settled down to strike out 11 batters in six frames. The bullpen allowed another three runs in the final two innings, and the offense never got it going as they lost 6-2.
Enter Shane Bieber in Game Three, coming off his All-Star-MVP performance in Cleveland on Tuesday. It’s a bit redundant to say this was a must-win game, but a loss would’ve pushed the Indians 8.5 games back for the division lead.
Bieber certainly stepped up, tossing 6 1/3 innings, allowing three runs on five hits while striking out nine. He allowed all three of his runs in the seventh inning, where he gave up two singles, walked one, and hit two batters. He had given up two runs before manager Terry Francona pulled the 24-year-old.
Oliver Perez and Adam Cimber combined to get the final two outs of the inning, though Perez allowed the tying run to cross home plate, tying the game. Bieber was helped out by fellow All Star Carlos Santana, who hit a solo homer in the home half of the inning. Cimber pitched a scoreless eighth, then Brad Hand struck out the side to seal the 4-3 victory.
While not the prettiest of outings, Bieber still pitched well enough to prevent a sweep. However, stepping back we can see just what makes Bieber so valuable and how important he is to Cleveland’s future.
Durability for a Hurt Rotation
The Indians’ rotation has had some bad luck in 2019. Corey Kluber hasn’t pitched since May 1st. Mike Clevinger’s multiple trips to the IL have limited him to six total starts. Also, the league was recently struck with the tragic news that longtime starter Carlos Carrasco was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia.
Indians players and coaches present at the All-Star Game showed their communal support for their teammate. Despite not being able to play, Cookie has become an inspiring symbol of strength in Cleveland and throughout the league.
— SportsTime Ohio (@SportsTimeOhio) July 12, 2019
With everything that has happened to their rotation, the Indians desperately needed some form of stability. Trevor Bauer has been a workhorse, averaging 112 pitches per outing. Right there with him is Bieber, who has already surpassed his innings total from 2018.
Bauer has been very good this year, but Bieber has been a bit better in pretty much every significant statistical category. Bieber has a lower ERA, gives up less home runs, has a better strikeout-to-walk ratio, and has a much higher ground ball rate.
The Indians would not be a contender this year without the consistency of Bauer and Bieber. However, statistically, Bieber has been the better pitcher and has grown into the ace of the staff.
The Indians are Shopping Bauer
Despite being just half a game out of the wild card race, the Indians are still looking to move Trevor Bauer. He only has one more year of control and will soon be out of Cleveland’s price range.
The market for dominant starters this year is thin. There are Marcus Stroman and Madison Bumgarner, who figure to get moved. The Tigers seem reluctant to trade Matthew Boyd. Out of all of these players, Bauer arguably is the best option. Given this, the Indians figure they can get a great prospect package for the 28-year-old.
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) July 8, 2019
The Indians have made smart, impactful acquisitions in recent years. Andrew Miller helped them reach the World Series in 2016, and Brad Hand has been phenomenal since joining the club last season. However, these deals have taken a toll on the Indians’ farm system. Trading Bauer could be their best way to replenish what they’ve lost.
Additionally, the Indians could still improve their MLB roster by trading Bauer. Sending the righty to the Yankees for a package including ex-Indian Clint Frazier would give them the right-handed outfield bat they’ve needed. Bauer’s value allows the Indians to get creative with what they get in return.
It may seem counter-intuitive to move a pitcher who has been so vital to the team’s success in 2019. However, both Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco are expected to return in 2019. This could make the front office more comfortable moving Bauer, while putting their faith in Bieber to hold down the fort until their veteran starters return.
Bieber is Controllable
One reason why Cleveland may be so willing to move Bauer could be that Bieber figures to be a core piece of their rotation for years to come.
Bieber is currently arbitration eligible through 2023. Carrasco has a contract that runs through 2023 as well, and Corey Kluber has team options for 2020 and 2021. However, Kluber posted an alarming 5.80 ERA when healthy this year. Kluber has recorded over 200 innings pitched dating back to 2014, but at 33 years old, there is concern about regression and health issues.
The rotation certainly has some ambiguity moving forward. Shane Bieber gives the team some sort of certainty. He’s done nothing but produce since being called up to the big leagues, and Indians fans should be excited to see Bieber continue to grow as the ace of the staff.