Should the Indians Already Be Thinking Contract Extension for Shane Bieber?

Casey Drottar

By now, everyone is aware of the Cleveland Indians’ payroll situation. The team shed salary for the second straight year, a questionable move considering its window to contend is still wide open.

One would hope doing so creates the opportunity for Cleveland to lock up some in-house talent in need of contract extensions. Sadly, that likely won’t include Francisco Lindor, as the superstar shortstop appears to be on borrowed time with the Tribe.

Mike Clevinger appears to be a clear candidate, something Alex Hooper discussed here last week. With only two years of team control remaining after this season, he’s definitely someone the Indians should consider extending.

While they’re considering new deals within the rotation, Cleveland would be wise to get the ball rolling with Shane Bieber, too. Considering his meteoric rise, as well as how little he’s set to make now, it’s easy to why both sides would think there's no time like the present to ink a new deal.

Admittedly, Bieber’s contract situation doesn’t create any sense of urgency. He’s under team control through 2024, and doesn’t even become arbitration eligible until after the 2021 season. Why would the Indians be in any hurry to adjust this?

From Cleveland’s perspective, all you have to do is look at the way Bieber’s career is trending to see why it’d be smart to start working on a team-friendly deal now.

It took Bieber a little over a calendar year to transition from back-of-the-rotation call-up to MVP of the All Star Game. In 2018, he was a talented rookie who provided the Indians some much-needed pitching depth. In 2019, he generated the highest WAR of anyone on the roster (5.6) and finished fourth in Cy Young voting.

Year-over-year growth was certainly expected from Bieber, sure. However, it’s tough to believe anyone could’ve predicted just how much he improved from his rookie campaign.

Bieber saw an 87% innings increase in 2019, and logged 119% more strikeouts than he did in the previous season. His K/9 jumped from 9.26 to 10.88, while his strikeout rate increased from 24.3% to 30.2%. His BABIP wasn’t great (.296), but with a WHIP of 1.05, it was something Cleveland could make peace with.

Overall, Bieber finished top ten in the majors at both K/9 and WAR last year, while only two pitchers struck out more batters.

Both FanGraphs and Steamers see Bieber’s rise slowing a bit, with each projecting slight declines for him in 2020. Then again, one need only compare his performance from last year to what ZiPS initially projected for him to see he has no trouble when it comes to bucking expectations.

Projection – 3.71 ERA, 156 K’s, 3.8 WAR
Actual – 3.28 ERA, 259 K’s, 5.6 WAR

With Bieber’s career skyrocketing, it certainly wouldn’t be crazy for Cleveland to start working on an extension. The Indians could lock him in to fixed numbers now, buying out his remaining years of team control and adding a club option or two at the back end of the deal. They could structure the contract as they did with Corey Kluber’s, offering around $1-2 million to start, with steady annual increases leading up to the options.

As for Bieber, while he may be tempted to take the Lindor route and hold out for more money, one would think he’d be open to a pay raise this year. After all, he’s set to make an estimated $583K in 2020. Using his career WAR of 8.3, that comes out to about $70K per win.

Quite a discount considering what he offered Cleveland last season.

Toss in the volatility and higher injury risk that comes from being a starting pitcher, and it’s easy to see why Bieber wouldn’t turn down a salary increase.

The Indians have no plans to go into a full rebuild once Lindor departs. Considering the amount of talent they have secured for the next few seasons, along with the work they’ve put towards improving their farm system, they don't need to consider one.

With that in mind, there’s no harm in securing Bieber now as opposed to kicking the can down the road. The way his career is trending, it appears he’s only going to get better.

Or, as team ownership may see it, more expensive. The best way to avoid getting burned by this is to work on a raise now, something Bieber would surely welcome.

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