Ranking the Chances for Every MLB Team to Land Trevor Bauer in Free Agency

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistOctober 17, 2020

Ranking the Chances for Every MLB Team to Land Trevor Bauer in Free Agency

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Trevor Bauer will be the most sought-after pitcher on the upcoming free-agent market, and his unique view on the league's financial structure promises to make him one of the most compelling stories of the winter.

    The 29-year-old led the National League in ERA (1.73) and WHIP (0.80) while racking up 100 strikeouts in 73 innings to establish himself as the NL Cy Young favorite and then tossed 7.2 scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series.

    In normal circumstances, he could make a run at the seven-year, $245 million contract that Stephen Strasburg signed with the Washington Nationals last offseason.

    Instead, Bauer has indicated time and again that his preference is to sign one-year deals for the remainder of his career as a means of maximizing his annual earning potential and ensuring he is suiting up for a contender.

    If he sticks to that, a one-year, $40 million contract is not out of the question from a contender who thinks he is the missing piece.

    Before free agency kicks off in a few weeks, let's take a preliminary look at how all 30 teams stack up as landing spots for Bauer this offseason based on their financial flexibility, need in the starting rotation and status as contenders.    

Not a Chance

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    We're not going to see Trevor Bauer in a Diamondbacks uniform again anytime soon.
    We're not going to see Trevor Bauer in a Diamondbacks uniform again anytime soon.Associated Press

    30. Houston Astros

    You don't generally call a team "hypocrites" and "cheaters" and then chose to join its clubhouse a year later. Keep dreaming, Houston.

                                                                                             

    29. Pittsburgh Pirates

    The best free agent on the market is not going to willingly climb into a flaming dumpster. After a 19-41 showing in 2020, the Pirates are as far from contending as a team can get.

                              

    28. Colorado Rockies

    Is there a less appealing home ballpark than Coors Field for a pitcher who is potentially eyeing a one-year deal? No one wants to be the next Mike Hampton.

                                   

    27. Kansas City Royals

    The five-year, $55 million contract that Gil Meche signed prior to the 2007 season still stands as the largest free-agency expenditure in Royals franchise history. Bauer's asking price is on a wavelength that doesn't register in the Kansas City front office.

                                                               

    26. Baltimore Orioles

    The Orioles were still hovering around .500 in early September before a 5-14 finish to the 2020 season. They're not ready to dive into the deep end of free agency just yet, but the future looks promising.

                                                               

    25. Arizona Diamondbacks

    The D-backs drafted Bauer with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 draft, but he and the organization never saw eye-to-eye, and Arizona traded him to Cleveland after the 2012 season for Didi Gregorius in a three-team swap. There's a new front office in place, but he may still have a bad taste in his mouth.

    At the same time, it's also fair to wonder if the D-backs even view themselves as contenders in 2021. The pieces just don't match up here for multiple reasons.      

Financial Limitations

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    A triumphant return to Cleveland? Unlikely.
    A triumphant return to Cleveland? Unlikely.Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    24. Tampa Bay Rays

    The entire Tampa Bay roster was set to earn $75.8 million before the 2020 season was shortened. People were surprised when they shelled out a two-year, $30 million contract to sign Charlie Morton two winters ago. Bauer's asking price keeps him off their radar entirely.

                                             

    23. Oakland Athletics

    The six-year, $66 million extension that Eric Chavez signed prior to the 2004 season is still the largest contract ever handed out in Oakland. Even if the A's were planning on opening up the budget, extensions for guys like Matt Chapman and Matt Olson figure to be the No. 1 priority.

                    

    22. Texas Rangers

    The Rangers are planning on reducing payroll in 2021, according to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. Even if they were ready to spend, they would have a tough time convincing Bauer they are ready to contend in 2021 after falling flat this year.

                                    

    21. Washington Nationals

    Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin are set to earn a combined $82.5 million during the 2021 season. The Nationals have a lot of issues to address after a disappointing campaign, and starting pitching is not at the top of the list.

                   

    20. Cleveland Indians

    The Indians traded Bauer last summer because they were not willing to fit his climbing arbitration figure into the 2020 budget. The front office is expected to trade one of the best homegrown players in franchise history in Francisco Lindor because the brass are not going to meet his asking price. A reunion isn't in the cards, Cleveland.

                

    19. Milwaukee Brewers

    With Ryan Braun's $17 million salary coming off the books, minus a $4 million buyout on his 2021 mutual option, the Brewers will have some money this winter. It's going to take far more than they'll be willing to spend to snag Bauer, though.               

Not Quite Contenders

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    Casey Mize is part of a young Detroit rotation on the rise. Are the Tigers ready to contend?
    Casey Mize is part of a young Detroit rotation on the rise. Are the Tigers ready to contend?Associated Press

    18. Seattle Mariners

    With one of the deepest farm systems in baseball and a ton of payroll flexibility, the Mariners are going to be major players on the free-agent market in a few years. If Bauer does go the one-year deal route, don't count them out a few years down the road.

                

    17. Miami Marlins

    A 31-29 record and a trip to the NLDS in a uniquely structured season shouldn't derail the Marlins from their long-term plans. The roster was stripped to the studs so they could build toward sustainable success, something the organization has never enjoyed. Wavering from that approach now would be premature.

                            

    16. Detroit Tigers

    The idea of adding Bauer to a young Detroit staff that includes Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and eventually Matt Manning is intriguing, and shedding Jordan Zimmermann's $25 million salary gives the front office some financial wiggle room. It's going to be tough to sell Bauer on the potential for near-term contention, though.

                                                 

    15. San Francisco Giants

    The Giants were one of the biggest surprises of 2020, contending into the season's final weekend. They were also still a sub-.500 team. The money it would cost to sign Bauer would be better spread among multiple starters, including free agents Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly.

                            

    14. Boston Red Sox

    With the luxury-tax reset, the Red Sox might be willing to spend some once again. If Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez can return healthy, they will undoubtedly be improved, but that's a big if. At this point, they are more likely to be battling for third in the division than for a playoff spot.   

Dark Horses

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    Toronto ace Hyun Jin Ryu would look even better in the No. 2 starter spot.
    Toronto ace Hyun Jin Ryu would look even better in the No. 2 starter spot.Associated Press

    13. Minnesota Twins

    With Jake Odorizzi, Rich Hill and Homer Bailey all set to depart, the Twins will need to address the rotation this offseason. Kenta Maeda, Jose Berrios and Michael Pineda are locked into spots, while Randy Dobnak showed flashes of being a capable back-end starter.

    After making a splash last offseason with a four-year, $92 million contract for Josh Donaldson, it's fair to wonder if the front office will be willing to spend big once again. The Twins will also need to address the free agency of slugger Nelson Cruz and key reliever Trevor May.

                                       

    12. St. Louis Cardinals

    As an organizational philosophy, the Cardinals have generally shied away from big-ticket free-agent signings. The last time they bucked that trend was the ill-advised five-year, $82.5 million contract given to outfielder Dexter Fowler in December 2016.

    With Bauer's desire for a short-term contract mitigating much of the risk, they could change their tune for a chance to climb back to the top of the NL Central heap. If Jack Flaherty returns to form, the pair would be a dynamic tandem atop the staff.

                              

    11. Toronto Blue Jays

    The Blue Jays gave Hyun Jin Ryu a four-year, $80 million contract to be the ace of the staff last offseason, and he turned in a terrific debut before getting shelled in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series.

    With a wealth of cost-controlled position player talent, spending money on the pitching staff makes sense. After exceeding expectations in 2020, the Jays could view Bauer as the missing piece, but spending on multiple second-tier starters might be the smarter approach.   

10. Cincinnati Reds

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    Luis Castillo
    Luis CastilloJeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Potential 2021 Rotation

    1. Trevor Bauer
    2. Luis Castillo
    3. Sonny Gray
    4. Tyler Mahle
    5. Wade Miley (L)

    When asked by reporters about his time in Cincinnati in late September, the always candid Bauer had this to say:

    "There's parts of it that I haven't enjoyed, mostly centered around how many games we lost. I hate losing. But it's been a very rewarding experience as well. I don't see this team as a losing team. We lost some games early that we probably shouldn't have lost, but we're in a position now to go to the postseason, and it takes a lot of energy to change a culture and to get over the hump initially.

    "Once you do, you set yourself up for a window of success. Looking out into the future, if you're talking about the I-want-to-win qualification, I feel like this is a team that I can win with, for sure."

    That doesn't sound like someone who has ruled out a potential reunion, but will the Reds be willing to make a competitive offer?

    The Cincinnati front office invested heavily on the offensive side of things last offseason, signing Nick Castellanos, Mike Moustakas and Shogo Akiyama, only to watch the lineup struggle mightily when it mattered most. With a strong rotation in place even if Bauer walks, the Reds could prioritize other areas, but starting pitching figures to be on the shopping list with Anthony DeSclafani also headed for free agency.       

9. Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Dustin May
    Dustin MayTony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Potential 2021 Rotation

    1. Clayton Kershaw (L)
    2. Trevor Bauer
    3. Walker Buehler
    4. Dustin May
    5. Julio Urias (L)

    Despite the free-spending narrative surrounding the Los Angeles Dodgers, they generally don't break the bank in free agency.

    Their biggest investments in recent years have come in locking up their own in-house free agents and spending on the international market, with A.J. Pollock (four years, $55M) and Joe Kelly (three years, $25M) representing their biggest recent outside additions via free agency.

    It's also fair to question whether starting pitching is even an area of need.

    Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler will be back to lead the staff once again in 2021, while young starters Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin and Julio Urias all pitched well this year. Josiah Gray, one of L.A.'s top prospects, will also be knocking on the door in short order.

    Veteran David Price is in the mix after opting out of the 2020 season, and with two years and $64 million left on his contract, he'll be part of the rotation.  

    Just because the Dodgers can afford Bauer doesn't mean signing him makes sense, but never say never.   

8. Philadelphia Phillies

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    Aaron Nola
    Aaron NolaNick Wass/Associated Press

    Potential 2021 Rotation

    1. Trevor Bauer
    2. Aaron Nola
    3. Zack Wheeler
    4. Zach Eflin
    5. Spencer Howard

    With Jake Arrieta and his $20 million salary coming off the books (club options for 2021 and '22), the Philadelphia Phillies will be in the market for a starting rotation upgrade and have money to spend.

    They gave Zack Wheeler a five-year, $118 million contract last offseason, and he had an excellent first campaign with the team. Along with incumbent ace Aaron Nola, Bauer would give the Phillies a formidable Big Three as they look to chase down the NL East pack.

    However, the on-field results once again failed to match the on-paper talent in 2021, and the Phillies went 28-32 in their first year under manager Joe Girardi.

    The bullpen needs to be completely blown up and rebuilt, and the front office has a big decision to make regarding star catcher J.T. Realmuto as he joins Bauer on the free-agent market. Re-signing Realmuto and adding a few top-tier bullpen arms could take precedent over a run at Bauer.         

7. Chicago Cubs

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    Yu Darvish
    Yu DarvishDavid Banks/Associated Press

    Potential 2021 Rotation

    1. Trevor Bauer
    2. Yu Darvish
    3. Kyle Hendricks
    4. Alec Mills
    5. Adbert Alzolay

    With Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood both ticketed for free agency and Jon Lester likely to have his $25 million option declined in favor of a $10 million buyout, the Chicago Cubs have work to do to rebuild their starting staff.

    Alec Mills (11 GS, 5-5, 4.48 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 46 K, 62.1 IP) was a pleasant surprise, and rookie Adbert Alzolay (4 GS, 1-1, 2.95 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 29 K, 21.1 IP) impressed down the stretch.

    At some point, the organization needs to rely on in-house pitching help, but those two are probably best suited to round out the back of the rotation.

    With big decisions coming following the 2021 season as Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber all reach free agency, one last all-in push to win a title with Bauer on a one-year deal is a potential approach to the offseason.              

6. Atlanta Braves

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    Ian Anderson
    Ian AndersonTony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Potential 2021 Rotation

    1. Trevor Bauer
    2. Max Fried (L)
    3. Mike Soroka
    4. Ian Anderson
    5. Kyle Wright

    Hot take: Atlanta doesn't need Trevor Bauer.

    Max Fried and Ian Anderson have emerged as a dominant one-two punch, and Kyle Wright has provided plenty of reason for optimism despite his ugly outing in Game 3 of the NLCS.

    Mike Soroka should be back from his torn Achilles early in 2021, and Bryse Wilson showed Thursday night that he's capable of being more than just organizational depth.

    Atlanta would be better served coming to terms on a new deal with free-agent slugger Marcell Ozuna and using the rest of the money it might otherwise spend on Bauer to address a relief corps that is set to lose Mark Melancon, Shane Greene and Josh Tomlin.

    Then again, if the team wants to go all-in on 2021 and expand the payroll, a short-term deal with Bauer wouldn't alter its long-term plans, and Atlanta has shown a fondness for one-year deals in recent years.  

5. New York Yankees

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    Gerrit Cole
    Gerrit ColeGregory Bull/Associated Press

    Potential 2021 Rotation

    1. Gerrit Cole
    2. Trevor Bauer
    3. Luis Severino
    4. Deivi Garcia
    5. Jordan Montgomery (L)

    One way or another, the New York Yankees starting rotation is going to have a new look in 2021.

    Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ and James Paxton are all free agents, Luis Severino is not expected to be ready for Opening Day as he continues his recovery from Tommy John surgery, and Domingo German may not be welcomed back to the organization after serving an 81-game suspension for violating the league's domestic violence protocols.

    That would leave the Yankees to rely on some combination of Jordan Montgomery, Jonathan Loaisiga, Michael King and 2020 rookies Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt to follow ace Gerrit Cole until Severino returns. From a need standpoint, Bauer makes sense.

    However, he does not have a great relationship with former UCLA teammate Gerrit Cole, and he's not shy about chirping back at Yankees fans on social media. Despite that, he hasn't ruled out donning pinstripes.

    "I would sign with the Yankees," Bauer told Complex's Load Management podcast in July. "I want to pitch every fourth day, so as long as they’re willing to let me make 40 starts and pitch every fourth day, it would certainly be a conversation."

    For now, the Yankees should be viewed as contenders but not front-runners.

4. San Diego Padres

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    Mike Clevinger
    Mike ClevingerGregory Bull/Associated Press

    Potential 2021 Rotation

    1. Trevor Bauer
    2. Mike Clevinger
    3. Dinelson Lamet
    4. Zach Davies
    5. Chris Paddack

    MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patino represent significant pieces of the long-term rotation puzzle in San Diego, and Patino gained valuable experience in 2020 with 10 appearances out of the bullpen.

    However, both players would likely benefit from a bit more seasoning in the minors, and once they arrive, it could be a few years before they reach their ceilings.

    In the meantime, the San Diego Padres have shown they are ready to contend right now, and adding Bauer to a rotation that will also have a full season of deadline pickup Mike Clevinger would make them a formidable foe for the Dodgers in the NL West.

    The health of Dinelson Lamet's right elbow will be an ongoing question mark until the next time he takes the mound, but the organization does have plenty of depth if he misses time, with Adrian Morejon, Ryan Weathers and Joey Lucchesi all capable of holding down a rotation spot.

    The Padres are an attractive landing spot on a one-year or on a multiyear pact given their core and future upside, so they have to be considered a legitimate contender for Bauer's services this winter.      

3. New York Mets

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    Jacob deGrom
    Jacob deGromNick Wass/Associated Press

    Potential 2021 Rotation

    1. Jacob deGrom
    2. Trevor Bauer
    3. Noah Syndergaard
    4. David Peterson (L)
    5. Seth Lugo

    It's a whole new ballgame for the New York Mets, assuming the proposed sale of the team to billionaire Steve Cohen goes through without a hitch.

    With an influx of cash and the desire to make an immediate splash, the Mets have to be viewed as players for the biggest names on this year's free-agent market, including Bauer and Realmuto.

    The starting rotation is a glaring hole with Marcus Stroman, Michael Wacha and Rick Porcello all reaching free agency and Noah Syndergaard working his way back from Tommy John surgery, and that alone is reason enough to include the Mets among the front-runners to sign Bauer.

    However, a potential preference toward Realmuto and the team's uninspired recent track record are enough to keep them out of the top spot in these rankings.     

2. Los Angeles Angels

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    Dylan Bundy
    Dylan BundyBen Margot/Associated Press

    Potential 2021 Rotation

    1. Trevor Bauer
    2. Dylan Bundy
    3. Andrew Heaney (L)
    4. Griffin Canning
    5. Jaime Barria

    The Los Angeles Angels came up short in their run at signing Gerrit Cole last offseason, settling for Dylan Bundy and Julio Teheran as the big additions to a middling rotation.

    Bundy emerged as the staff ace, while Griffin Canning and Andrew Heaney both turned in solid seasons, providing a solid foundation for a good starting rotation if L.A. can find a bona fide ace.

    Bauer is that ace.

    Ideally, the Angels would find a long-term solution, but they can't afford to squander another year of Mike Trout's prime. They have the money to sign Bauer to an enormous one-year deal, and that would immediately vault them into contention in the AL wild-card picture.

    With a new general manager incoming after the firing of Billy Eppler, it's going to be a big offseason for the organization.           

1. Chicago White Sox

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    Lucas Giolito
    Lucas GiolitoTony Dejak/Associated Press

    Potential 2021 Rotation

    1. Trevor Bauer
    2. Lucas Giolito
    3. Dallas Keuchel (L)
    4. Dylan Cease
    5. Dane Dunning

    If there is one team that could view Bauer as the missing piece to push it into legitimate title contention, it's the Chicago White Sox.

    Lucas Giolito has developed into a bona fide ace, and Dallas Keuchel put up Cy Young-caliber numbers in the first season of a three-year, $55.5 million deal. But the lack of a third top-tier starter held the White Sox back during the postseason.

    Dylan Cease has shown flashes, and Dane Dunning had a 3.99 FIP in seven starts. But solidifying the staff with another ace-level starter would vault the South Siders into the World Series picture.

    Edwin Encarnacion has a $12 million salary coming off the books (2021 club option with no buyout), and now is the time to expand the payroll with the rebuild at a close and the contention window wide-open.

    A serious run at Manny Machado a couple of years ago showed the Sox are willing to make a splash for the right free agent, and Bauer is the right one.

                                              

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.