CLEVELAND — Major League Baseball’s lengthy lockout this winter didn’t have any impact on Shane Bieber’s wedding plans. He’s still happily getting hitched.
It didn’t alter his desire for a long-term union with the Guardians, either.
The 2020 Cy Young Award winner, limited to just 16 starts last season due to a right shoulder strain, said Tuesday he remains open to signing a long-term contract with Cleveland.
« I love the organization. I love the people, » Bieber said after the Guardians held their first full-squad workout in Goodyear, Arizona. « I love the relationships, and am always open to discussing something and figuring something out. »
The 26-year-old, who has quickly become one of baseball’s elite pitchers, is arbitration eligible — salaries for the 2022 season will be exchanged next week — for the next three seasons.
And he will be needed as the Guardians look to build on 2021. Last season, Cleveland finished in second place in the American League Central, but two games under .500 at 80-82. The Chicago White Sox won the division, sitting 13 games ahead of Cleveland.
While Bieber is certainly a top priority, Guardians president Chris Antonetti wouldn’t get into specifics on Monday when asked about contract talks with players. It goes without saying that the club would like to lock up Bieber for as long as possible.
« I do think we’ll have some of that internal conversations, » Antonetti said. « The timing of that is really hard to say when we’ll be able to do that just because of the compressed nature of the offseason. »
Now healthy, Bieber is looking forward to bouncing back after being sidelined and unable to help his teammates. Because of his trust in Antonetti and general manager Mike Chernoff, the right-hander said he’ll be able to focus solely on performance and not worry about his future.
« That (contract talks) will get handled in its own right and it’s just being here and getting ready for a full 162, which is really exciting for me, » he said on a Zoom call. « I have not a new perspective, but a definite hunger to get out there and throw this year. »
It’s hard to say whether Bieber’s injury sped up any timetable for a long-term deal. There was nothing for him to do for a long stretch last year but do rehab and be patient as his shoulder got stronger.
It was a new experience, and not one Bieber wants to repeat. He gained a greater appreciation for playing.
« It always happens where you come down with something and you’re like, ‘Wow, I didn’t appreciate my health a little bit more when I was feeling better,' » he said. « That’s kind of what I dealt with, but I was able to focus on a lot of other things.
« I know we talked every now and then during the year last year about trying to be a good teammate and a good person in general. That’s what I try to focus on: How do I level up myself, not just as an athlete, as a pitcher, but as a teammate and as a person? That’s what I was able to focus on. I would have liked to be back out there as quick as possible, I guess the silver lining was I learned a lot about myself and I tried to stay as patient as possible. I feel like I got better throughout the process. »
Bieber threw a bullpen session on Tuesday, and he’ll pitch batting practice this week. He knows he’ll need to be smart during this condensed spring training and resist the urge to push harder.
Opening day will arrive quickly, and it’s imperative he’s ready.
« I’ve been a little gung-ho and that is me and I’m not going to change who I am, » Bieber said. « But having a slightly bit more patience never hurts. »
As for his personal life, Bieber said he’s excited about his upcoming wedding with long-time girlfriend Kara Maxine Kavajecz. And he laughed when asked about his involvement in plans for the big day.
« Obviously, I don’t have final cut, » he said. « But pretty involved. »
The Associated Press contributed to this report.