2020 Team: Reds
Age (as of Opening Day 2021): 30
2020 stats: 5-4, 1.73 ERA, 73 IP, 100 K, 0.795 WHIP
Bauer is one of the most polarizing figures in baseball, so naturally his free agency figures to be one of the most intriguing storylines of the offseason.
It was less than two years ago that Bauer proclaimed that he would go year to year for his entire career, signing a series of one-year contracts to assure that he’s in a place he wants to pitch.
“Why would you lock yourself in a situation that may not make you happy? I think that’s highly inefficient. Everybody is afraid of risk. Everyone is scared,” Bauer told USA Today in February 2019. “It’s still unproven how clubs feel about it, but looking at the market and studying it, I identified for myself personally that it’s the best route to go forward.”
In September, however, Bauer told MLB Network Radio that he would be open to the idea of a multiyear deal.
“I’m not afraid of the one-year deals,” Bauer said. “I’m not afraid of the longer deals. It’s just going to be a case-by-case basis, and we’ll see what the situations look like.”
After a season in which he led the National League with a 1.73 ERA, Bauer should find himself with plenty of appealing situations from which to choose. He’s the clear-cut No. 1 starter on the open market, ahead of a pack that includes Marcus Stroman, James Paxton, Kevin Gausman, Masahiro Tanaka, Jake Odorizzi and Robbie Ray.
Whether Bauer ultimately signs a one-year deal or a multiyear pact, he should receive the largest average annual value of any pitcher this offseason — and possibly the highest for any pitcher in the history of the game.
— MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (@MLBNetworkRadio) September 17, 2020
1) Reds: The Reds have said they will do “everything we can” to keep Bauer in Cincinnati, while the pitcher recently said he believes the Reds are “a team that I can win with.” Getting to the postseason was a big first step for Cincinnati, which hadn’t been there since 2013. The presence of pitching coordinator Kyle Boddy — who has worked with Bauer at the Driveline training facility that has become popular among pitchers — is a plus for the Reds, as is his relationship with pitching coach Derek Johnson. Still, it will likely take an overwhelming AAV on a short-term deal for the club to retain the NL Cy Young Award favorite.
2) Yankees: It would be a bold move for the Yankees to sign Bauer only one year after giving Gerrit Cole a nine-year, $324 million deal, but general manager Brian Cashman has never been afraid to be bold. Even if Bauer doesn’t sign a one-year deal, it seems unlikely that he would demand a deal that would lock him up into his late-30s, so a four- or five-year deal could be appealing to the Yankees, who have rotation spots to fill as Tanaka, Paxton and J.A. Happ are all headed for free agency this winter. Of note: Cole and Bauer were UCLA teammates and reportedly don’t care for one another, so that could potentially affect things, but Bauer recently downplayed the “fictitious” feud.
3) Twins: The Twins have shown a willingness to spend in what they see as a window of contention, and adding a starter of Bauer’s stature would certainly strengthen their chances of winning the American League Central for a third straight year. Bauer also has a strong relationship with Minnesota chief baseball officer Derek Falvey from their time together in Cleveland. If he’s serious about his willingness to sign a short-term deal, the Twins could be a player for his services.
4) Red Sox: Boston’s starting staff was a mess all season, and with ace Chris Sale likely to miss the start of 2021 following Tommy John surgery and Eduardo Rodriguez’s future up in the air due to aftereffects of COVID-19, the Red Sox could look to bolster their rotation via free agency. Boston reset its luxury-tax situation in 2020, making it possible that the club makes a big move for ’21 following a dreadful showing this past season.
5) White Sox: Chicago has roughly $30 million coming off the books (Edwin Encarnación, Alex Colomé, James McCann and Jarrod Dyson will be free agents), and now that they have gotten a taste of the postseason, the White Sox could go all-in for 2021. Adding Bauer to a rotation with Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel and Dylan Cease would likely make the Sox the favorites in the AL Central.
6) Angels: Bauer is the best available starting pitcher and the Angels are the team that needs him the most, but until a new general manager is hired to replace Billy Eppler, it’s tough to project the direction the team will take this offseason. As always, it should start with pitching. For the second straight season, Los Angeles ranked 25th in the Majors with a 5.09 ERA, wasting an offense that scored the ninth-most runs in the game.
7) Mets: Stroman, Michael Wacha and Rick Porcello are all free agents, while Noah Syndergaard will miss at least the first two months of 2021 following Tommy John surgery. Jacob deGrom can’t pitch every day, so new owner Steve Cohen (assuming his purchase of the club is approved by MLB) could flash his financial muscle by adding the market’s top starter. The Mets, who are also expected to be in the hunt for catcher J.T. Realmuto, will likely be attached to virtually every top free agent this offseason.
8) Cubs: Bauer would make a ton of sense for the Cubs, who could lose 60% of their rotation with José Quintana and Tyler Chatwood headed for free agency and Jon Lester possessing a $25 million mutual option with a $10 million buyout. The question is whether Chicago plans to dip its toes into the high end of the free-agent market, which is what it will take to land Bauer.
9) Giants: Starting pitching will be San Francisco’s No. 1 need this offseason, with Gausman, Drew Smyly and Trevor Cahill all headed for free agency. (Jeff Samardzija was also released last month.) The Giants are still in rebuilding mode, which might not appeal to Bauer, but perhaps the right offer — and the pitch that he is the one to help return the team to the postseason — could convince him to consider a move to the Bay Area. A big splash a year from now when they could have more than $55 million come off the books seems more likely.
“Trevor Bauer is the best starting pitcher in this year’s free-agent class, and there is a significant margin between him and the second-best starter available. He is a high-end No. 2 starter with solid command of three above-average pitches. In total, there are five offerings, and he has deception with every pitch coming out of the same window. He challenges hitters with an above-average velocity heater at the top of the zone and then relies on a plus curveball to put them away primarily with a variety of other options in between. Trevor has an aggressive mentality on the mound and a desire to embarrass the opponent. The intent to collect strikeouts in the past has impacted his ability to be pitch efficient and work deep into games. As he ages, it will be incumbent upon him to continue to seek weak contact in addition to the strikeout totals.
“To be diplomatic, the bigger questions surrounding Bauer have nothing to do with talent. He is a unique individual and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but will he be able to fit in enough? Trevor seems completely devoted to his craft from studying trends to digging in on performance science. He also is unafraid to speak his mind and challenge convention. However, it is also those things that cause you to wonder about whether he will alienate teammates and staff. His stated desire to only sign one-year deals should have risk-averse executives salivating for a multitude of reasons. If he were to have a change of heart regarding that stance, he will be compensated handsomely, entertain fans and media alike, while likely annoying and frustrating opponents.”
As noted above, the only thing teams could be wary of is Bauer’s outspoken personality, which he puts on display on social media, in interviews and any other platform available to him. Bauer has occasionally allowed his emotions to get the better of him on the field, such as the time he fired a ball into the outfield seats as former manager Terry Francona came to remove him from a game. This type of emotion can be disruptive, though it also contributes to his ultra-competitive nature.
FOR COMP’S SAKE
There are eight pitchers in the Majors with an average annual salary of at least $30 million, which seems like the floor for any Bauer deal. The question is whether he’ll try to smash Cole’s record of $36 million by taking a short-term deal.
Cole landed a nine-year, $324 million pact last winter, a number Bauer is unlikely to get. But Zack Greinke’s six-year, $206.5 million contract ($34.4 million AAV) could be a realistic goal for Bauer if he’s seeking a long-term deal. If he’s willing to sign for one or two years, he could approach an AAV in the $37-40 million range.
Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.