Shane Bieber staying positive as he faces uncertain future

Apr. 8—Gaylord Perry pitched 22 years in the Major Leagues, faced 21,953 batters in his Hall of Fame career, pitched more than 300 innings six times and pitched more than 200 innings 11 other times. He pitched 303 complete games and posted a career record of 314-265 in a career that started in 1962 and ended in 1983.

Perry's right arm never fell off his shoulder. From 1968-1975, pitching for the Giants, Indians and Rangers, he started 38, 39, 41, 37, 40, 41, 37 and 37 games. He appeared in 777 games — 690 of them starts.

Guardians star Shane Bieber, 28, needs Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. He hopes the operation will occur by the end of this week, he said April 8 during a news conference before the home opener at Progressive Field, because the sooner the operation occurs, the sooner he can begin the long, long rehab process he must go through to once again be a dominant pitcher.

"Baseball will be there," Bieber said. "I'll be here. It's easy to keep things in perspective. It's just an injury that I'll get past. I'm not the first person and won't be the last."

At that point in his answer, Bieber almost cried. The tears were in his eyes and his voice quivered a bit, but he didn't go into full weeping.

Shane Bieber is trying to stay positive as he faces Tommy John surgery and an uncertain future. @CleGuardians #MLB

— Jeff Schudel (@jsproinsider) April 8, 2024

Bieber missed more than two months with a right elbow injury last season. He thought it was in his rearview mirror. It turns out it was gaining on him all along.

"I think one of the things that's a bit more difficult for me is that throughout the offseason and in spring training I did figure some things out," he said. "My performance was getting back to the place that I knew I was capable of and I was falling back in love with pitching. I was having a lot of fun.

"And this group's great and they're capable of so much with or without me. I know I'll be a part of it, but just in a different capacity. So there's a lot of emotions that go into it, but that's one of them."

So how did Bieber get to the point where his elbow is so damaged that the only way to repair it is surgery? And what happens next? Bieber has pitched in 136 games with 134 starts.

Bieber will be a free agent in November without a contract extension from the Guardians. Being a free agent coming off Tommy John surgery is a whole lot different than being one coming off a strong season. Bieber started 2024 2-0. He pitched six innings in back-to-back starts without allowing a run.

Bieber could have blamed the introduction of the pitch clock in 2023 as the reason for his elbow injuries in back-to-back seasons, but he isn't going down that path. At least not yet. Bieber relies heavily on his breaking pitches, which puts more strain on the elbow than throwing a fastball.

"Obviously the conversations (about the pitch clock) are happening, they're continuing to grow louder and they're happening quite a bit more often, so we'll see what's to come of it,' Bieber said. "For me, I'm not ready to say what it is. I guarantee it's a combination of a number of factors on top of logging a lot of innings from now all the way back into college and high school. So, yeah, there's plenty of studies that have been made and plenty that will come."

Bieber won't pretend the contract situation isn't on his mind. He called it "the elephant in the room" when asked about it.

Bieber is making $13,125,000 this season. Just for a couple examples, Sonny Gray, 34, was 8-8 with the Twins last year. He signed a three-year, $75 million contract with the Cardinals. Aaron Nola, 30, re-signed with the Phillies on a seven-year, $172 million deal after finishing 13-8 last year. Lucas Giolito got $38.5 million for two years from the Red Sox despite going 8-13 with the White Sox, Angels and Guardians last season.

"I'm still processing it," Bieber said. "It's a very real elephant in the room, so to speak. And it's unfortunate the timing of everything, but as athletes, you can't control some of these things. So we do what we can. We stay positive.

"I've got an amazing support system with my family, with my teammates, with everybody around here, and I'm excited to keep my head down, move forward, and it's easy to keep things in perspective. Things could be a lot worse, I'll put it that way."