Major League Baseball's owner-imposed lockout compromised the regular season last week, with commissioner Rob Manfred canceling the first two series on the 2022 schedule. Whenever and wherever Opening Day takes place later this year, Cleveland Guardians ace Shane Bieber should be ready and able to partake.
Bieber, who was limited to a pair of second-half starts because of a strained throwing shoulder in 2021, tweeted on Thursday that he's been 100 percent for a while and that he "can't wait to get things going":
Bieber, 26, made 16 starts last season. Just two of those came after Flag Day. Both were in September, and both were three-inning sprints in which he threw a combined 84 pitches. Overall, he accumulated a 3.17 ERA (139 ERA+) and a 4.06 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He made his second career All-Star Game during his absence, though he was unable to partake.
Bieber has emerged in recent years as one of the best starting pitchers in the majors. He won the 2020 American League Cy Young Award, and he has compiled a 2.92 ERA (157 ERA+) and a 5.48 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 388 innings over the last three seasons. He also finished fourth in AL Cy Young Award voting back in 2019.
Bieber is a pivotal player for the Guardians in multiple senses. His health and availability are vital if the Guardians, whose big offseason addition to date has been backup catcher Sandy León, intend to compete in the American League Central. Should the Guardians fall out of contention, Bieber could become an appealing midseason trade candidate. He's scheduled to qualify for free agency after the 2024 campaign.
It should be noted that the Guardians have expressed interest in signing Bieber to a long-term extension in each of the last two springs. It's unclear if Bieber's injury has changed the risk-reward calculus for either the team or the player for a deal to get done.