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Could the Chicago Cubs Trade For Shane Bieber?

With the Chicago Cubs in need of an arm for the top of the rotation, could the team attempt to pry Shane Bieber away from the Cleveland Guardians?

With the Chicago Cubs now looking firmly toward what is rumored to be a busy offseason on the Northside, the team has a list of upgrades to look for if they want to compete in 2023. At or near the top of the list for the Cubs is likely to be a bonafide ace-level pitcher for the top of the staff. 

Chicago has been linked to several top free-agent starters from Carlos Rodón to Kodai Senga, but another name that makes sense for the Cubs could be Cleveland Guardians ace Shane Bieber. There are a number of different reasons a trade to Chicago could make sense on top of him instantly becoming the staff ace.

First is that the 27-year-old is due a hefty amount in arbitration this offseason, a projected 10.7 million dollars according to MLB Trade Rumors. That could be a steep price for the ordinarily frugal Cleveland organization, who notably traded Trevor Bauer in 2019 partly to avoid his steep arbitration, so this could be something the Guardians consider. 

Cleveland was considering a repeat of the Bauer situation with Bieber at this season's deadline, with ESPN's Jeff Passan saying that Shane Bieber was available, albeit at an exuberant price, this past deadline. Of course, the Guardians later went on to win the AL Central, possibly changing their position going forward, but a Bieber trade has at least been in consideration in the past. 

Perhaps another factor that could make a trade more possible is Cubs' General Manager Carter Hawkins' relationship with the Guardians front office. Hawkins began his executive career with Cleveland as a scout in 2008, staying with the organization and working his way up to Assistant General Manager until the Cubs hired him away in 2021. Hawkins' familiarity and trust with the Guardians organization could make Cleveland more willing to move Bieber to Chicago than other places. 

These reasons along with Cleveland's history of consistently churning out quality starters, may not make a trade likely, but they do make it feasible to imagine, and the Cubs may have the prospect depth it would take to pry him away. 

The trade is a no-brainer from the Cubs perspective. The 2020 Cy Young winner was excellent after a slow start in 2022, finishing with an excellent 2.88 ERA, better than any Chicago starter with more than 10 starts and a 2.98 xFIP, indicating very little of his performance was luck. Bieber also pitched 200 innings on the dot, which would've been the highest among Cubs pitchers by 61.1 innings.

The righty brings two things Chicago's staff needs more than anything else, that being stability and legitimate elite-level performance. The former fourth-round pick, did suffer a velocity dip on his fastball as well as a drop in strikeout numbers, but Bieber has overcome it by dropping his walk rate down to a career-low rate of 4.6% and becoming more pitch efficient and leaning on his cutter more often than in years past (17% in 2022 as opposed to 3% in 2021) to manage contact better. 

The UC Santa Barbara graduate still is able to gets swings and misses when needed, sitting in the 78th percentile in whiffs according to Baseball Savant. The California native also has used his slider much more, utilizing it 22% of the time in 2022, more than double the rate he used it in his 2020 Cy Young campaign and making it his second most used pitch. It was also his most effective pitch, finishing with a run value of -11, the lowest value on any pitch in any season of his career.

This is also something that is likely going to greatly intrigue the Cubs, as the team placed a greater emphasis on sweeping sliders for their pitchers, and Bieber fits that philosophy like a glove. 

Should Chicago pull off a trade for the righty, it would create a rotation in 2023 that would look something like Bieber, Marcus Stroman, Justin Steele, and a few other vying for the final two spots, a very solid rotation nucleus that could compete for a playoff spot. The question is, would Cleveland really be willing to deal its ace?

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