A former Cy Young Award winner in his prime can probably be had for the bargain-basement price of $720,000, a steal of a deal for a team looking to fortify its rotation on the cheap and willing to ignore the fine print.
Trevor Bauer comes with some baggage, a violation of baseball’s sexual assault and domestic violence policy that netted him a 194-game suspension, pending legal cases in which he has sued six parties for defamation and a 19-month absence from professional baseball.
But with the Dodgers deciding on Friday to cut ties with Bauer rather than face the potential backlash of retaining him, they will likely have to pay most of his $22.5-million salary for 2023, allowing another team to sign the 32-year-old right-hander for the major league minimum of $720,000.
Bauer was technically designated for assignment, meaning the Dodgers will have seven days — until Thursday — to trade him, at which point the right-hander must be placed on unconditional release waivers. If no team claims him, he will become a free agent on Friday.
But it’s hard to imagine another team interested in Bauer would give up much value in a trade when they can sign him as a free agent.
The question then becomes, will another team buy?
“It’s probably a [public relations] nightmare for any team to try to approach this and touch it,” former pitcher David Cone, a five-time World Series champion who is a YES Network and ESPN “Sunday Night Baseball” announcer, said on the “Toeing the Slab” podcast on Tuesday.
“I mean, I don’t know what happened. I just know what I’ve read, and it’s ugly. That type of abuse and what’s alleged against him is just mind-boggling. That being said, he went through due process. He was not [criminally] charged. And on the pitching side, he’s a savant.”
Indeed, Bauer, a former UCLA standout who was the third pick in the 2011 draft, was always ahead of the curve in terms of training techniques and the use of analytics, his cutting-edge approach and work ethic helping him develop into one of baseball’s most accomplished pitchers through the first half of 2021.
Bauer has an 83-69 career record and 3.79 ERA in 10 big league seasons and won the National League Cy Young Award after going 5-4 with a 1.73 ERA in 11 starts, striking out 100 and walking 17 in 73 innings, in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season for the Cincinnati Reds.
Which is why, as former Minnesota Twins infielder Trevor Plouffe said on the Talkin’ Baseball MLB Podcast earlier this week, “I do think he ends up pitching for somebody.”
Plouffe listed the Houston Astros as a potential landing spot for Bauer. The defending World Series champions lost ace and three-time Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander to a free-agent deal with the New York Mets, and they haven’t shied away from players with similar issues.
The Astros acquired Roberto Osuna from the Toronto Blue Jays at the trade deadline in 2018 while the closer was serving a 75-game suspension in the wake of his arrest in Toronto for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend.
Osuna went 4-3 with a 2.63 ERA and 38 saves in 2019 for the Astros, who lost a seven-game World Series to Washington, but he missed most of 2020 because of an elbow injury and was let go after the season.
Plouffe also thinks the Texas Rangers, who “are suddenly looking to compete,” could pursue Bauer, as could the Mets, with uber-aggressive owner Steve Cohen. He wondered if the Seattle Mariners, who snapped a 20-year playoff drought last October, could make a run at Bauer.
The San Diego Padres, who ousted the NL West-rival Dodgers from the playoffs last October, could use another starter to fill out their rotation, and how motivated would Bauer be to make three or four starts against the team that let him go?
“I’m thinking teams that want to compete for real,” Plouffe said. “I think there are going to be some teams who say, ‘We like the on-field performance enough.’ ”
Bauer might also be an attractive option for rebuilding teams such as the Cincinnati Reds, Colorado Rockies, Pittsburgh Pirates and Nationals, who could sign Bauer in hopes that he regains his 2021 form — Bauer went 8-5 with a 2.59 ERA in 17 starts with the Dodgers — and trade him for prospects next summer.
In Cincinnati, which lost 100 games last season, Bauer would be reunited with general manager Nick Krall, manager David Bell and pitching coach Derek Johnson, who were with the Reds when they acquired Bauer from Cleveland in 2019 and when Bauer won his Cy Young Award.
Johnson, as well as then-Reds pitchers Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray, took part in an on-field ceremony in Dodger Stadium when Bauer was awarded his Cy Young plaque in April 2021.
“It’s really special that they were able to be here,” Bauer said that night. “I’m happy DJ was able to be there and present it. We’ve been friends and known each other for a long time.”
The 107-loss Nationals, the 100-loss Pirates and the 94-loss Rockies, who have always struggled to attract top-flight free-agent pitchers to mile-high, hitter-friendly Coors Field, could use a starter of Bauer’s caliber.
The price is certainly right. But any deal for Bauer will come with a caveat emptor — buy at your own risk.
“There’s two sides of Trevor Bauer,” Cone said. “The off the-field stuff … he’s always been kind of a lightning rod [for controversy]. But he’s a supremely talented pitcher, one of the smartest guys I’ve ever heard talk about pitching.”