Trevor Bauer signing with Dodgers continues NL Central’s talent drain

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Tim Stebbins
·3 min read
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Bauer departure underscores NL Central winter talent drain originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Just when the NL Central started making noise during an otherwise quiet winter, another big-name player is leaving the division.

Reds free agent and 2020 NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer has agreed to a deal with the Dodgers, the right-hander announced Friday. According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the deal is for three years and worth $102 million — including a whopping $40 million in 2021 — with opt outs after each season.

The move comes on the heels of the Cubs (Joc Pederson), Cardinals (Nolan Arenado) and Brewers (Kolten Wong) recently making their most significant additions of the offseason to date.

On a national scale, the deal makes Bauer the highest-paid player in baseball for the 2021 season. It also gives the defending champion Dodgers the deepest starting rotation in the game, with Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, Bauer, Julio Urías, David Price, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin.

But locally, Bauer’s exit represents the latest example of the mass talent drain inflicting the NL Central. Far more players who have accumulated 2.0 WAR or more since 2019 (according to Baseball Reference) have left the division this offseason compared to those who have come in.

Pirates 

-SP Joe Musgrove (2.4) — traded to Padres

-OF/1B Josh Bell (2.2) — traded to Nationals

Brewers

-SP Brett Anderson (3.2) — free agent

-INF Eric Sogard (2.3) — free agent

Reds

-Trevor Bauer (3.8) — signed with Dodgers

-Freddy Galvis (2.8) — signed with Orioles

-Anthony DeSclafani (2.1) — signed with Giants

Cardinals*

-N/A

*Kolten Wong (6.5 WAR since 2019) is not included because he left the Cardinals as a free agent but stayed in the division on a multi-year deal with the Brewers.

Cubs

-Yu Darvish (6.2) — traded to Padres

-Kyle Schwarber (2.1) — non-tendered, signed with Nationals

Total: 27.1 WAR 

Nine players may not seem significant, but the group doesn’t include key names who left the division that didn’t tally 2.0 WAR or more the past two seasons. That group includes:

-Pirates: SP Chris Archer and SP Jameson Taillon (4.9 WAR in 2018, his last full season before Tommy John surgery)

-Reds: RP Archie Bradley, RP Raisel Iglesias and C Curt Casali

-Brewers: OF Ryan Braun and RP Corey Knebel

-Cardinals: C Yadi Molina** and OF Dexter Fowler

-Cubs: SP José Quintana, SP Tyler Chatwood, SP Jon Lester, RP Jeremy Jeffress 

**Molina could re-sign with St. Louis.

Now compare the 27.1 figure to the total WAR posted by players who have joined the NL Central this winter (also minimum of 2.0, from 2019-20):

Pirates, Brewers, Reds

-N/A

Cardinals

-Nolan Arenado (8.3)

Cubs

-Zac Davies (4.3)

-Joc Pederson (2.9) 

Total: 15.5 WAR

The combined WAR of Arenado, Davies and Pederson is more than half the amount of the nine players mentioned previously. But it’s only that close because of Arenado, and the division’s massive talent drain is even more evident if you don't include him (dropping the total from incoming players — both Cubs — to 7.2).

That drain is reflected in the amount of money the Brewers, Cubs, Cardinals, Pirates and Reds have spent this offseason. The NL Central ranks last among all divisions in handing out a tick over $43 million on big-league, free-agent deals. (Although the Cardinals will pay Arenado a handsome sum the next seven seasons.

Granted, some of the outgoing players could be replaced by younger internal options. But the fact is the NL Central has lost plenty of key players this winter and few big names in turn have been brought in.

Bauer joining the Dodgers only underscores that point.

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OddsMoney LinePoint SpreadTotal Points
NY Mets
-110--
St. Louis
-110--