“Talented, antagonistic.” That’s how The Athletic‘s Pedro Moura describes Trevor Bauer in two words. Lots more words under either of those could be and have been written about, shall we say, the controversial enough righthander. They run the gamut from forward thinker to bully, from student of the game to misogynist.
The Dodgers pushed a big bet to the center of the table that Bauer over a full season on the mound will be what he was for the Reds in last year’s short, irregular season. The Mets were thought ready to push the biggest chips forward but let him walk into the Dodger embrace.
The Dodgers are also betting the talent will neutralise the antagonism by signing Bauer to a three-year deal that includes record-setting single-season salaries in the first two. The Mets are also betting they’ve dodged a howitzer shell by not signing Bauer to even the purely single-season deal the pitcher is known to prefer.
A starting rotation that already features Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Julio Urias, and David Price, plus two starter-capable swing pieces named Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin, just became a repository of depth approaching a season in which pitching depth is going to matter phenomenally.
Last year’s short irregular season left baseball’s pitching corps short enough of full-season regular work that there is and should be even more true alarm about pitcher health than usual approaching a more complete season. Bauer’s history of innings consumption wedded to May’s and Gonsolin’s availabilities gives the Dodgers room to manage the 2021 workloads of Kershaw, Buehler, Urias, and Price prudently.
Especially if they think the Bauer signing has indeed sent the message ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez says it sent: “There’s us, and then there’s everybody else.” And how. Not just in the pennant race. Bauer’s going to earn in one season than the entire payroll of the tanking Pirates. ESPN’s David Schoenfeld warns, though, that that isn’t exactly something new other than the dollar amounts in question.
Look, is it “fair”? No. But we haven’t had a repeat World Series champ since those 1998-2000 Yankees, low-payroll teams like Tampa Bay and Cleveland both reached the World Series in recent seasons, Kansas City won one, and even Pittsburgh had a nice little run there a few years ago. Yes, it’s a challenge for the Pittsburghs and Clevelands of the world, but good luck on finding a better system that satisfies the rich teams, the “poor” teams AND the players.
(There was such a system once upon a time, in fact. Then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn murdered it when he blocked the infamous Charlie Finley fire sale of three Athletics stars and imposed a $400,000 limit on cash sales of players. Kuhn didn’t stop to think that that now kept the “poor” teams from profiting on developing younger players without losing their abilities to return to competitiveness within shorter periods.)
It’s the other message the Bauer signing sends that has no few people alarmed, too. No, not the one about Bauer’s 2020 being a fluke even inside a fluke, which might be alarming enough. He only had one full season remotely comparable to 2020, back in 2018. He built his Cy Young 2020 almost entirely with bricks provided by weak competition: he faced .500+ teams only three times, and ten of his starts were against teams whose offenses were called “anemic” in charitable moods.
No, the other message alarming people is the antagonistic side. Bauer’s reputation isn’t exactly radar proof. His presence on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube has made him a social media star somewhat out of proportion to his career results despite his talent and his deep studies in how to maintain his health and develop his pitches. And he isn’t exactly Mr. Congeniality across those platforms.
“[H]e will need to both own up, and put an end to, social-media tactics that include harassment when he responds aggressively to fans and reporters on Twitter, particularly women, prompting his followers to attack those who challenge him,” another Athletic writer, Ken Rosenthal, observes.
Bauer has pledged to wield his platform more responsibly in the past, only to engage in such conduct again. Those around him say he cannot control the behavior of his followers, an empty claim that does not absolve him of responsibility. Frankly, he should have been capable of seeing the impact of his actions long ago.
He has made it clear he wants to be active on social media and cultivate a large audience, which he says is because he wants to help make baseball more exciting for younger fans. But by lashing out at his critics, he fails to recognize the power he has over that audience and its desire to defend him. Continuing that behavior is inexcusable.
Bauer’s prior written nastinesses toward women just might have backed the Mets away in the end.
Yes, the Mets might have made for their own super-rotation—plugging Bauer into a rotation featuring two-time Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom plus Carlos Carrasco, Marcus Stroman, and returning Noah Syndergaard. But their recent upendings involving ex-general manager Jared Porter’s and former manager Mickey Callaway’s sexual harassment text messagings past mean the last thing the Mets needed was a pitcher with a history of misogyny compromising their work toward improving conditions for women around the team.
Bauer won’t have things simpler in Los Angeles, even if he is native to the area. The Dodgers’ media market is almost as large as New York’s. He’ll be viewed with magnifying glasses and under microscopes at least as acute and relentless as he would have been in New York.
When the New York Post‘s Joel Sherman wrote two days ago that he wouldn’t sign Bauer but if the Mets must it should be just a single season worth, he had in mind that a single season would be simpler for the Mets to escape any damage to their brand inflicted by Bauer’s way of building his own.
Bauer’s behavior does not rise near the malfeasance that Porter copped to and is alleged against Callaway. But Sandy Alderson hired both Porter and Callaway. He said in the aftermath of both disturbing revelations that had he known prior, he would not have hired Porter or Callaway. He knows what he knows about Bauer. Now. Today.
. . . Bauer might be a terrific big personality for the Mets. But there is enough risk and concern that they should offer $40 million for one year to learn for themselves.
The defending world champion Dodgers also know what they know about Bauer. They’re taking a bigger chance against it exploding in their faces during a three-year deal—from which Bauer can opt out after either this season or next—than the Mets would have taken on a strictly single-year deal.
The Mets have it simpler now. Any money they might have spent on Bauer could now apply toward landing Jake Odorizzi, whom several analyses proclaim the best starter left on the free agency market, for the back of their rotation. Odorizzi isn’t a world-beating starter but he could be the right number five man for the Mets. Could.
They might apply some of that money, too, toward Jackie Bradley, Jr., whose bat hadn’t exactly been a world beater until showing signs of life last irregular season (Real Batting Average has him .484 lifetime) but who’s still a plus defender in center field with a knack for throwing runners out from center field and turning double plays, and enough defensive runs saved.
Bradley has room to improve as a hitter, too: he’s not a big home run threat historically (he averages eighteen home runs per 162 games lifetime), but 41 percent of what he does hit goes for extra bases. And he’s a road runner on the bases: he has an .811 lifetime stolen base percentage and has taken extra bases on followup hits almost half the time he’s reached base.
Let the balance between Bauer’s talent and his headaches be on the Dodgers’ heads. The Dodgers may be deep enough that Bauer’s headaches wouldn’t make a huge impact, but they could leave the Dodgers with as many migraines off the field as their presence on it will leave for the rest the National League West, at minimum.