In the words of former White Sox commentator and former Indians pitcher Hawk Harrelson, “You gotta be bleeping me.” When I got the notification, my first reaction was genuinely that it might be some old notification from April Fools Day earlier this week. I needed to use Google to make sure this wasn’t one of those fake accounts that try to “gotcha” people. Alas, it’s real.

Shane Bieber will be having Tommy John surgery. Don’t expect to see him again this year. Don’t expect to see him in a Cleveland Guardians uniform ever again. I’m sure the timing could have been worse, but the timing was pretty awful.

Despite a mini bullpen meltdown last Sunday in Oakland, the Guardians had taken three of four from the Athletics and then went into Seattle and beat two of the American League’s best pitchers. They continued their early season success by dampening division rival Minnesota’s Opening Day with another victory. After a 6-2 start that has seen the Guardians post the best run differential in baseball’s early going- including victories against legitimate playoff hopefuls in the Mariners and Twins- many fans (including this writer) felt the wind in our sails.

The fact that Bieber had looked like the Cy Young Award-caliber starter we had seen in previous seasons was all the more reason for positivity. In two starts, he had yet to allow a run in 12 innings, striking out 20 while walking just one (in retrospect, imagine what he may have looked like if his elbow wasn’t hurt). Sure it was insanely early, but his velocity was up and his breaking pitches looked sharp. He looked like the ace that a division-winning team predicated on pitching, defense and timely hitting exactly needs.

So yeah, we were brimming with optimism. Things were looking up, baby. The Guards were looking like 2022’s team that won 92 games and gave the Yankees a good scare in the ALDS. Possibly better.

But after Saturday morning’s news: Wind? Out of sails. Optimism? Gone. Direction of things? Pointing with laser focus into the depths of despair. Crotch? Kicked squarely with steel-toed boots.

Hello darkness, my old friend.

Logan Allen has been announced to replace Bieber as Cleveland’s home Opening Day starter. Ben Lively had a rehab start on Friday night that went well. I was thinking the Guardians were going to need to figure out who to send down in the bullpen to make a spot for Lively. That’s no longer a problem. It is not certain, but he will probably fill the general void in the starting rotation until Gavin Williams returns from the Injured List. This also means Cookie Carrasco‘s time in the rotation will be extended.

The Guardians used nearly all of their young starting pitching prospect capital when they promoted Williams, Allen and Tanner Bibee last season. This is a lot of the reason why they are messing with fringy veterans like Carrasco and Lively. Lefty pitching prospect Joey Cantillo could be a contributor, but his entire spring was set back by a hamstring strain. A mid-season promotion might’ve been accelerated based on Bieber’s injury, but that’s not an option now. Perhaps Xzavion Curry can make starts too when he is fully built up. Any of these names can give innings, it’s hard to believe they will give innings at the caliber that Bieber was already starting to provide this year.

For his part, Bieber will probably not throw a baseball for twelve months. His contract with the Guardians ends after this season. I am not a mathematician by profession, but I am pretty sure that September is less than 12 months away. A year-long injury followed by extensive rehab will likely stunt his value on the free agent market this winter, but I would still not expect Cleveland to be in the bidding for his services.

Free agent pitcher German Marquez signed a two-year, $20 million deal this winter despite the fact that he will not be ready to pitch until mid-summer at the soonest for the Colorado Rockies. Marquez is not the caliber of pitcher of Bieber. Bieber will easily make more, especially considering he is already making more in arbitration.

I’m not making a distinction on whether they should or should not, but I find it unfathomable that the Guardians will pay Bieber say… $15 million per year sight unseen coming off of Tommy John surgery. They had to dig into couch cushions and liquidate their savings bonds just to pay arguably their best player in franchise history $17 million a year this year.

Additionally, any ability to trade Bieber at the deadline was been squandered. Obviously, no team is going to trade for a player that will be injured for the remaining terms of his contract. The Guardians will not have Bieber in the rotation to spark a successful season and they will not be able to trade him for players to help them in this year or the future. Quite literally, his contributions to the club are done, directly and indirectly.

Again, I’m sure there could have been worse timing, but right now I am having a really hard time thinking of worse scenarios.

So… there are still nearly six months of season left. We haven’t even had our home Opening Day yet here in Cleveland. If you’ve read me before, you know I’m usually pretty optimistic about the Guards. Maybe to a fault. I am going to continue watching and following, as I would advise anyone who loves this game and loves this team to do. They still have a lot of young talent and could be an interesting ball club, particularly to watch a lot of this talent learn and improve at the highest level. They may even still threaten for the division and win more ballgames than they lose.

But coming into the season, the Guardians being a real contender to be a successful playoff team felt like boating across the water on a turbulent day. It was going to be a challenge, but if everyone was successful in their role and they got some luck, they could make it. After their excellent start, it felt like maybe the weather wasn’t as treacherous as we thought it would be. Is that the sun peeking out and the chop slowing down? But now, not only is the storm returning, it might be a hurricane. Was that a leak I just noticed in the deck?

I’m sorry, this just feels like a gigantic step backward.

Go Guards.

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