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Trevor Bauer's $102M Contract Ensures Dodgers' Prolonged Reign of Terror over NL

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterFebruary 5, 2021

Cincinnati Reds' Trevor Bauer reacts after recording a strikeout against Milwaukee Brewers' Christian Yelich during a baseball game in Cincinnati, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. The Reds won 6-1. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)
Aaron Doster/Associated Press

The reigning World Series champions now have the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner. 

As first reported by Jon Heyman of MLB Network on Friday and subsequently confirmed by the man himself on YouTube, ace right-hander Trevor Bauer has agreed to sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers. According to Mark Feinsand of MLB.com, it's a three-year contract worth $102 million:    

Mark Feinsand @Feinsand

Trevor Bauer gets $102M for 3 years from Dodgers, per source. He has opt outs after each of the first two years; $40M in 2021, $45M in 2022. He'll be the highest-paid player in MLB history in '21, then again in '22. Good job by @AgentRachelLuba & Jon Fetterolf of @zssports_law.

Now that Bauer has made his choice, what stands out isn't just that the Dodgers are good but rather how good they are heading into the 2021 season.

                 

Trevor Bauer's Resume

  • 30 years old
  • Drafted by Arizona Diamondbacks with No. 3 pick in 2011
  • Made MLB debut on June 28, 2012
  • Traded to Cleveland in December 2012
  • Traded to Cincinnati Reds in July 2019
  • 3.90 ERA (113 ERA+) over 1,190 innings
  • American League All-Star in 2018
  • National League Cy Young Award winner in 2020

                  

The Dodgers Are Going to Be a Problem. Again.

At least in the regular season, the Dodgers were the surest thing in Major League Baseball between 2013 and 2019. They won the NL West each year, with an average of 96 wins per season and highs of 104 wins and 106 wins in 2017 and 2019, respectively.

Yet all that was merely practice for what happened in 2020.

Albeit in a season shortened to just 60 games in deference to the coronavirus pandemic, the Dodgers achieved the fifth-highest winning percentage of the modern era in going 43-17. That was no fluke, as they led the majors in runs scored and ranked behind only Cleveland in runs allowed.

Though last year's Dodgers had their scares in October, it was no great surprise when they dispatched the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series. Thus did they secure the organization's first championship since 1988, not to mention a place in baseball lore as one of the most dominant teams of all time.

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

But now that they have Bauer, even the 2020 Dodgers could look like chumps compared to the 2021 Dodgers.

As evidenced by the fact that his ERA has been over 4.00 in seven of his nine seasons, Bauer hasn't been the most consistent pitcher throughout his career. Yet he's always had the upside of a true No. 1 starter, and he's indeed been exactly that in two of the last three seasons.

The Dodgers ought to be—and clearly are—especially enthusiastic about what Bauer did last season. His stuff was electric, specifically to the extent that he achieved the highest average spin rate of any starter. That allowed him to whiff 100 batters in 73 innings en route to an NL-best 1.73 ERA.

Granted, Bauer missed out on the overall ERA lead because Cleveland's Shane Bieber, the American League Cy Young Award winner, finished with a 1.63 mark. But based on his strikeouts, walks and contact quality, Bauer actually had a better expected ERA than Bieber or anyone else:

  • 1. Trevor Bauer, CIN: 2.17
  • 2. Shane Bieber, CLE: 2.63
  • 3. Jacob deGrom, NYM: 2.72

Opposing teams won't just have their hands full with Bauer when they face the Dodgers. L.A.'s starting rotation will likewise feature two additional Cy Young Awards winners in Clayton Kershaw and David Price, plus two youngsters with ace-caliber stuff in Walker Buehler and Julio Urias.

Assuming they aren't traded, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin will be swingmen after combining for a 2.45 ERA last season. And while veteran closer Kenley Jansen isn't as dominant as he used to be, he's still an effective frontman for a bullpen that will also have the live arms of Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol, Joe Kelly and newcomer Corey Knebel.

The Dodgers offense is no less intimidating. Though it's lost Joc Pederson and Enrique Hernandez to free agency and is currently missing Justin Turner, it still has MVPs Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger and sluggers Corey Seager and Max Muncy. If it's not the best offense in MLB, it's at least in the running.

Despite the seismic moves that the San Diego Padres have made this winter, the Dodgers were projected for more wins above replacement in 2021 even before they signed Bauer. Now that they have, a ninth straight NL West title is firmly within their reach.

And that may be the least of what the Dodgers are capable of this season. They could also set their sights on the 2019 club's franchise wins record and on becoming the first National League team to win back-to-back World Series since the 1975-76 Reds.

            

Bauer's Wishes Have Come True

When Bauer outlined what he was looking for in free agency back in January, he made a point about wanting to be fairly compensated.

To this end, his total guarantee isn't up there with the $300-plus million deals signed by Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Gerrit Cole during the two previous winters. Heck, it doesn't even measure up to the six-year, $150 million contract that George Springer signed with the Toronto Blue Jays this offseason.

But at $34 million per year, Bauer's deal is worth more on average than all but five other active deals. He's also going to make more money in 2021 and 2022 than any player has ever made in a single season. As compensation goes, that seems "fair."

It also shouldn't be ignored that Bauer's opt-outs after '21 and '22 are potential gateways to even more money.

The latter could be especially crucial, as it will present a chance for him to test the first market after MLB and the MLB Players Association hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement. Contrary to the current CBA, the next one might actually embolden spending in free agency through higher luxury-tax thresholds and changes to the qualifying offer system.

Paul Sancya/Associated Press

Bauer also spoke of wanting his next team to at least engage with him in a discussion about starting every fourth day, as opposed to every fifth day. Because the Dodgers have the pitching depth to survive if such an experiment were to backfire, they might be willing to go there with him.

Otherwise, Bauer made a point of wanting a chance to win and to simply be happy. Regarding the former, well, see above. That also has ramifications for the latter, and it obviously doesn't hurt that Bauer is a Southern California native who played high school ball in Santa Clarita and college ball at UCLA.

In short, his new home seems to be just what he wanted.

              

The Mets Missed Out

Alas, the New York Mets. They've had a darn good offseason so far, but Bauer's decision to sign with the Dodgers is a haymaker of a gut punch.

The Mets seemed on the verge of signing Bauer, as Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported that the club set a noon deadline Friday for the hurler to accept a three-year offer in the $100-110 million range. 

If he had, the Mets would have boasted a rotation headed by Bauer and fellow Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom and a deep, powerful offense headlined by newcomer shortstop Francisco Lindor. They would have cemented themselves as the team to beat in the NL East, if not the entire National League.

As for why Bauer didn't accept, Sherman reported that the money wasn't the issue:

Joel Sherman @Joelsherman1

#Mets offered more money to try to seduce Bauer out of #Dodgers, but going home to SoCal, defending champs, modern/cutting edge pitching shop won out.

The Mets can take this as their first lesson that new owner Steve Cohen's billions can't necessarily solve every problem. And while they may yet have more moves in them, they may have missed their best chance to catapult themselves into the same stratosphere as the Dodgers and Padres.

                             

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.

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