Making the Case for Trevor Bauer's Updated MLB Free-Agency Suitors

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 5, 2021

Making the Case for Trevor Bauer's Updated MLB Free-Agency Suitors

0 of 5

    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    The MLB offseason has picked up over the past few weeks, with a number of the top available free agents signing contracts after several months of a glacial market.

    However, the winter's biggest prize is still up for grabs.

    In an extremely thin market for starting pitching, Trevor Bauer has stood head and shoulders above the other available pitchers from the moment free agency began.

    Months later, the options around him have dwindled, but his search for the perfect 2021 fit has continued into February.

    With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report in just a few weeks, the saga is winding to a close, so let's take an updated look at the market for one of baseball's best pitchers.

Player Overview

1 of 5

    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    Why all the fuss about Bauer?

    The 30-year-old right-hander is arguably one of the best pitchers to ever hit the open market, alongside guys like Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson and Gerrit Cole.

    He led the National League in ERA (1.73) and WHIP (0.80) while tallying 100 strikeouts in 73 innings, cruising to 2020 NL Cy Young honors.

    It's not like that performance came out of nowhere either.

    In 2018, he went 12-6 with a 2.21 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 221 strikeouts in 175.1 innings to finish sixth in American League Cy Young voting, despite making just 27 starts.

    His unique approach to training, desire to pitch every fourth day and previously stated preference to sign one-year deals for the remainder of his career has made him one of the more compelling free-agency cases in recent memory.

    He has since walked back the one-year-contract approach and is said to be targeting a multiyear deal, but he remains a wild card given that he's not simply looking for the most money and years possible like the majority of free agents.

    Where will all of that lead him this winter?

The Favorite: New York Mets

2 of 5

    Jacob deGrom
    Jacob deGromNick Wass/Associated Press

    Even after landing shortstop Francisco Lindor in a blockbuster trade with Cleveland, the New York Mets were still hot on George Springer's trail before he signed with the Toronto Blue Jays on Jan. 23.

    It would stand to reason that there's still money to be spent in Steve Cohen's war chest.

    To that point, Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweeted Jan. 26 that the Mets were the favorites to land Bauer and that they had made a "lucrative" formal offer 10 days earlier.

    A few days later, Steven Matz was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays, further fueling speculation that the Mets might be clearing a path for Bauer in the starting rotation.

    However, they could just as easily have been clearing one for Joey Lucchesi, whom the Mets picked up in the three-team trade that sent Joe Musgrove from Pittsburgh to San Diego.

    The Mets rotation could be one of the best in baseball:

    • RHP Jacob deGrom
    • RHP Carlos Carrasco
    • RHP Marcus Stroman
    • LHP David Peterson
    • LHP Joey Lucchesi

    That's without Noah Syndergaard, who is expected back around midseason from Tommy John surgery.

    Still, if the Lindor trade made the Mets bona fide contenders, signing Bauer could be the move that bridges the gap to the Los Angeles Dodgers for NL supremacy.

The Sleeping Giant: Los Angeles Dodgers

3 of 5

    Walker Buehler
    Walker BuehlerTony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    The Dodgers have been routinely linked to the top players on the free-agent market in recent years, but they have never pulled the trigger on a big signing.

    Not counting new contracts given to their own players like Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen and Justin Turner, the five-year, $60 million deal the Dodgers gave AJ Pollock is the closest thing they've had to a recent headline-grabbing foray into free agency.

    However, the longer things drag on and the more teams that duck out of the running for Bauer by making other signings or trades, the more likely it becomes that Dodger Stadium is his future home.

    They already have six pitchers competing for five rotation spots:

    • RHP Walker Buehler
    • LHP Clayton Kershaw
    • LHP Julio Urias
    • LHP David Price
    • RHP Dustin May
    • RHP Tony Gonsolin

    That deep stable of options might not afford Bauer the opportunity to pitch every fourth day.

    Also, with a little over $4 million in wiggle room under the luxury-tax threshold, according to Spotrac, the Dodgers would have to find a creative way to shed salary or accept paying a penalty.

    Maybe they attach a prospect to Jansen ($20M salary) or Price ($16M salary) in an effort to clear their money? That's what the Los Angeles Angels did when they traded Zack Cozart and 2019 first-round pick Will Wilson to the San Francisco Giants before signing Anthony Rendon.

    With Corey Seager headed for free agency next winter and young stars Cody Bellinger, Buehler and Urias also in need of an extension, Bauer only makes sense on a short-term deal of a couple of years.

    If the Dodgers are serious about signing him, it's hard to rule them out.

The Potential Shake-Up: 'Mystery Teams'

4 of 5

    Farhan Zaidi
    Farhan ZaidiRoss D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Bauer's agent, Rachel Luba, confirmed via Twitter on Wednesday that the search is down to two teams.

    However, she didn't specifically say that those two clubs are the Dodgers and Mets, so the lingering possibility that a mystery team could enter the fray at the eleventh hour remains.

    Just a few years ago, no one saw the San Diego Padres coming when they swooped in and signed Manny Machado to a 10-year, $300 million contract.

    Who might crash the Bauer party?

    The San Francisco Giants are one team to watch.

    They have significant money coming off the books next offseason when Buster Posey (club option), Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Johnny Cueto (club option) all presumably hit free agency. They have also quietly assembled a farm system that checked in at No. 6 in our most recent rankings, and they have a president of baseball operations in Farhan Zaidi who knows what it takes to build a winner.

    The Angels are also worth keeping an eye on.

    No team can more easily point to Bauer as the potential missing piece to title contention. Even after adding Jose Quintana and Alex Cobb to shore up the rotation, they are still missing a bona fide ace.

    The Blue Jays and Padres have also both been extremely active this season as they look to evolve following postseason appearances, but they may be finished adding pitching.

    There's no question the Dodgers and Mets are the favorites, but never rule out the mystery team.


5 of 5

    Todd Kirkland/Associated Press

    It's the Mets for the years and money he's looking for or the Dodgers on a shorter deal with a better chance to win a ring in 2021.

    At least that would seem to be what it boils down to.

    Cohen has already flexed his financial muscles once this offseason by adding Lindor's $22.3 million salary, and that alone may be enough to sell Bauer on the franchise's direction.

    The Dodgers don't need Bauer, so I wouldn't expect them to overpay to get him, even if their chances of repeating as World Series champions improve with him in the fold.

    My money is on the Mets.

    Prediction: Signs a five-year, $180 million deal with the New York Mets.


    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.