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At the end of a free agency that was occasionally transparent and with hints of carnival barker, Trevor Bauer on Friday reportedly came to terms on a three-year, $102 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reports the deal, which pays Bauer $40 million in 2021 and $45 million in 2022, will make him the highest-paid player in MLB.
The deal reportedly includes opt-outs after the first and second seasons.
Jon Heyman first reported the agreement. The deal is contingent upon Bauer passing a physical.
Bauer also tweeted revealing his “new home.” Bauer grew up in Southern California and attended UCLA.
By far the most valuable starting pitcher on the market, Bauer, who in November won the National League Cy Young Award, and his agent stirred up his free agency on social media. The discourse served to heighten his reputation as a free spirit who enjoys attention.
The third overall draft pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011, Bauer was twice traded — to the Cleveland Indians and to the Cincinnati Reds — before reaching free agency. By then, he had a 75-64 record and 3.90 ERA in 205 appearances, 195 of them starts. He was an All-Star with the Indians in 2018 and posted a 1.73 ERA in 11 starts for the Reds in a pandemic-shortened 2020, when he struck out 100 batters in 73 innings, a career-best 12.3 strikeouts per nine.
His signature — and final — start for the Reds came on Sept. 30, in Game 1 of the NL wild-card series against the Atlanta Braves. Across 7 ⅔ innings in the Reds’ first postseason game in seven years, Bauer allowed two hits and no runs, struck out 12 and walked none. The Reds lost, 1-0, in 13 innings.
Will Bauer’s brash attitude be a positive?
Bauer turned 30 on Jan. 17. A solid pitcher for much of his career, an elite pitcher for some of it, he’d also picked up a reputation for eccentricities. He does things his way, always with forethought and mostly successfully, and says the quiet stuff out loud. He is long on opinion and short on governor. His fans find it endearing. At least two teams did not.
He has also occasionally strayed from eccentricity into more problematic openness on social media. In 2019, he was accused of cyber harassing a female student who he tagged in multiple tweets, and he later tweeted that he did not intend for his tweets to have a “negative impact.” The Mets, long rumored as a potential destination, fired GM Jared Porter after accusations he harassed a former reporter while he was an executive with the Cubs. Then, just this week, former Mets manager Mickey Callaway was suspended by the Los Angeles Angels after five women accused him of lewd behavior across his coaching career.
A common opinion in Bauer’s free agency was that teams would balance Bauer’s big fastball against Bauer’s big mouth, Bauer’s killer slider against Bauer’s commitment to chasing down social media trolls, Bauer’s tight curveball against Bauer’s loose regard for a world beyond that of his own making. That may or may not have been true.
In a league that relies so heavily on pitching and that breaks pitchers with regularity, however, Bauer has never had an arm injury and, again, hit the market rated well above the likes of fellow free agents Masahiro Tanaka (who returned to Japan), Stroman (who accepted the Mets’ qualifying offer), Kevin Gausman (who accepted the Giants’ qualifying offer) and Taijuan Walker. And so that market was predictably healthy.
Though Bauer had once claimed he would play out his career in a succession of one-year contracts, things change. What makes sense in one’s 20s perhaps looks different coming up on 30 and after the nine years of professional baseball he’d required to reach free agency. Gerrit Cole, his UCLA teammate, received a $324 million contract from the Yankees last offseason. Stephen Strasburg got $245 million from the Nationals. Seven current starting pitchers were earning $30 million or more per season in multi-year deals.
This deal does still place him on track to pursue more short-term contracts than other frontline starters. The structure, which places $85 million of the $102 million in the first two seasons, would encourage him to opt out after two years if he remains healthy and effective.
Bauer did come along in a potentially soft winter for free agents. Owners are smarting over lost revenue from the shortened 2020 season. That 2021 does not play out similarly is not guaranteed. The collective bargaining agreement between management and players expires after next season, casting further uncertainty on the game’s future economics. At the same time, there was new ownership in Queens, a long championship-less run in the Bronx, and new management in Anaheim. Bauer had said he would be open to returning to Cincinnati. The Padres had plans to overtake the Dodgers. The Blue Jays were becoming a force in the AL East. Even the Astros, with whom Bauer had feuded, seemed a possibility.
On the heels of a postseason in which the deepest and wealthiest clubs made do with bullpen games, and even into the World Series, Bauer as a free agent represented the chance for relief from that.
If anything, the Dodgers now have more starters than they know what to do with. After Bauer, Kershaw and Buehler, they will likely slot in Julio Urias and David Price. But strong 2020 performers Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin will be back for sophomore campaigns as well — giving the Dodgers extreme flexibility in their arms race with the San Diego Padres.
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