Trevor Bauer Is MLB's Most Polarizing, Enigmatic Trade Deadline Star

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJuly 10, 2019

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 26: Starting pitcher Trevor Bauer #47 of the Cleveland Indians pitches against the Kansas City Royals during the first inning at Progressive Field on June 26, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images)
Ron Schwane/Getty Images

The Cleveland Indians face a difficult decision with whether to trade ace right-hander Trevor Bauer.

The same can also be said of all the teams that might trade for him.

Why this discussion is even necessary is a good question in its own right. The Indians got off to a sluggish start, but a 22-9 stretch since June 1 has them squarely back in the American League playoff picture. They hold the AL's second wild-card spot, and they're 5.5 games behind the Minnesota Twins in the AL Central.

Although he hasn't replicated a Cy Young-caliber 2018 season that was highlighted by a 2.21 ERA and 221 strikeouts, Bauer has done plenty to help carry the Indians in 2019. He has a 3.61 ERA over an MLB-high 132 innings.

But while this would seem to add up to Bauer being decidedly not for sale, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports speculated that the Indians will at least be "aggressive listeners" to offers for the 28-year-old:

From the sound of things, there will be offers aplenty in the weeks leading up to the July 31 trade deadline. According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, one official described the list of teams interested in Bauer as being "around the block."

If the Indians do ultimately trade Bauer, it will only be the latest in a line of cost-cutting maneuvers that stretches back to the 2018-19 offseason. Moving him would mean getting out of the remainder of his $13 million salary for 2019 and as much as a $20 million salary via arbitration for 2020.

Yet the Tribe will presumably only trade Bauer if they also get back multiple players who are both talented and immediately usable. The obvious precedent is the 2018 deal that sent Chris Archer to the Pittsburgh Pirates and brought right-hander Tyler Glasnow and outfielder Austin Meadows back to the Tampa Bay Rays.

"Sometimes you make a trade it looks as if you are selling but you might be getting better," Indians manager Terry Francona said, according to Sherman. "They're [the Rays] winning. Sometimes younger doesn't mean worse. It is more inexperienced. But you might be setting yourself up not just for the future, but the present."

For potential buyers of Bauer, however, the Archer trade isn't such an encouraging precedent.

The talent/results disconnect that plagued Archer last season has only widened, as he's gone from a 4.31 ERA to a 5.49 ERA. The blossoming of Glasnow (when healthy, anyway) and Meadows into stars for Tampa Bay in the meantime is certainly salt in Pittsburgh's wounds and a warning to teams that might offer similar MLB-ready talent to the Indians for Bauer.

Bauer is in a similar spot now to the one Archer was in last season, except with more baggage.

Tony Dejak/Associated Press

Any team that trades for Bauer will be acquiring his personality in addition to his arm. The latter fires a high-octane fastball and a dizzying array of secondary pitches. The former has a tendency to frustrate or even outright offend.

On the field, Bauer is notoriously obsessed with his craft. He had this reputation even when the Arizona Diamondbacks drafted him out of UCLA with the No. 3 pick in 2011. It's only grown since then, and he's now a poster boy for Driveline Baseball—a facility in Washington that specializes in comprehensive physical and analytical training for pitchers—and a veritable encyclopedia of new-age pitching concepts.

Yet Bauer's steadfast commitment to his own drumbeat made him few friends in Arizona, where former catcher Miguel Montero said in 2013 that he "never wanted to listen." Although he's fit better in Cleveland since coming over in a 2012 trade, that seems to be more because of the organization's leniency than Bauer's desire to fit in.

One member of the organization told Ben Reiter of Sports Illustrated that the clubhouse is "24 plus Trevor." And in the words of one player, "I think Trevor cares about Trevor a lot."

Bauer's response? About what you'd expect.

"In what world is me being a Cy Young winner bad for the team?" he said to Reiter. "The better I am, the better the team is, so you should want me to be selfish about how good I am."

Off the field, meanwhile, Bauer doesn't win over many fans with his shock-jock social media personality.

He's offered hot political takes (see here and here), as also veered into bigoted territory. He caught heat from all over for his relentless bullying of a college student earlier this year. Just in general, he responds to detractors an awful lot for a guy who supposedly doesn't care what people think of him.

Of course, it's doubtful that any of this is going to stop pitching-needy teams from at least calling Cleveland about Bauer. And rightly or wrongly, clubs that really want him will be determined to live with any potential drama so long as he lives up to his billing.

Yet things aren't so clear-cut there either. It's not just Bauer's ERA that's regressed from 2018. His peripherals have, too, including his xwOBA:

Courtesy of BaseballSavant.MLB.com

For anyone who needs a quick crash course, xwOBA is a Statcast metric that measures expected production based on strikeouts, walks and quality of contact. It's a telling catch-all stat for both hitters and pitchers, and it paints Bauer's 2018 breakout as a clear outlier.

That notion is supported by how his strikeoutwalk and home run rates have all taken a turn for the worse. Likewise, hitters' average exit velocity against him is also up, from 87.0 to 88.4 mph.

There aren't any immediately discernible causes for all this. Bauer's fastball velocity and overall spin rate are both fine. He's not throwing as many first-pitch strikes or pitches in the strike zone, but his arm slot isn't radically different from last season.

None of this is going to be lost on teams that might be interested in a deal for Bauer. And for some, the combination of this data and what's sure to be an exorbitant price tag might be an excuse to back off.

Others might simply reject the notion that Bauer's 2018 season is an outlier. They might also conclude that he can indeed recapture last season's brilliance with a few minor tweaks. The only complication then would be penetrating his militant individuality.

In any case, somebody is going to take a chance on Bauer in the coming weeks. The only question is whether it'll be the Indians keeping him or somebody else forking over a proverbial arm and leg for him.

                           

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, Baseball Savant and Baseball Prospectus.

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