According to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, the Cubs are among the teams active in trade conversations for Shane Bieber and Tyler Glasnow. Both pitchers are entering their final year of control with their respective teams and have been connected to the Cubs with some degree of speculation for at least the last year. The Reds were also mentioned specifically, though Morosi’s wording indicates other teams are involved.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) November 28, 2023
The cost to acquire Glasnow figures to be lower due to his $25 million salary and checkered injury history, though Bieber has some red flags of his own even if he’s only projected to earn $12.2 million via arbitration in 2024. Since we’ve covered Glasnow pretty extensively this offseason, let’s turn our attention to the 2020 Cy Young winner.
Bieber captured the AL pitching triple crown in the shortened season, leading the league with eight wins, a 1.63 ERA, and 122 strikeouts in just 77.1 innings. He was still phenomenal the following season, though he missed two months due to a subscapularis strain. There are some serious concerns, however, about how his velocity and strikeout rates have plummeted since then.
After averaging 94.2 mph with a 41.1% K-rate in 2020, Bieber was down to 91.4 mph and 20.1% this past season. Bieber’s FIP has also jumped over the last few years, topping out at 4.77 this past season. Missing another two months in 2023 due to right elbow inflammation could help to explain the drop in velo, though many see more than a coincidence between the diminution of Bieber’s performance and MLB’s mid-2021 crackdown on sticky substances.
For what it’s worth, Bieber’s spin rates are down by around 100 RPMs across the board over the last two seasons from the two previous campaigns.
He won’t turn 29 until the end of May and should still have plenty of solid years ahead of him, but I worry that he’s not the kind of impact pitcher the Cubs need to target at any kind of significant cost. Remember what happened the last time they made a big swing to land a guy who profiled as a solid No. 2 starter? Though comping Bieber to José Quintana might seem incongruous, take a look at their aggregate three-year stats prior to a (potential in one case) Cubs trade.
Bieber: 3.22 ERA, 3.21 FIP, 9.30 K/9, 2.18 BB/9, 0.91 HR/9, 47.0% grounders, 58 game score
Quintana: 3.29 ERA, 3.19 FIP, 7.85 K/9, 2.14 BB/9, 0.70 HR/9, 44.1% grounders, 56 game score
Folks, the results are really similar. The biggest difference is that the Cubs were buying three-plus years of control, so the acquisition cost would not be nearly the same. This isn’t necessarily meant to be a knock on Bieber, though I do think it’s important to move beyond the glamour of a spectacular three-year run that included 2019 as well. Maybe he’s able to bounce back in a contract year, I’m just very skeptical of what kind of real impact he’d have relative to the cost.
For my money, the seemingly higher risk on Glasnow would come with the potential for much greater reward.
Oh, and one quick note: Being engaged in talks doesn’t mean anything is going to happen. Some of this is about leverage in one direction or the other, maybe in all three directions considering a division rival is involved. But given how much speculation there’s been around both of these pitchers in the past and seeing how the pitching market is starting to heat up, it’s very reasonable to assume we’ll see some action soon.