July 27, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Could the Dodgers land Trevor Bauer? There’s always a chance

The Dodgers don’t need to acquire a frontline starting pitcher this offseason. They have six proven major-league starters on their 40-man roster and a promising prospect poised to help for their title defense in 2021. Retaining Justin Turner and bolstering the bullpen are the priorities this winter.

That doesn’t mean the Dodgers won’t acquire a frontline starting pitcher this offseason. The organization emphasizes evaluating every option available. Andrew Friedman’s front office researches players across the spectrum. The point is to improve the club. Adding to a surplus, especially pitching, is sometimes the best answer. The work breeds creativity, which produces researched contingencies once the dominoes start falling.

The biggest domino in the starting pitcher market — Trevor Bauer — hasn’t budged yet. Several teams have been strongly linked to the right-hander. The Angels are at the top of the list. The Dodgers are further down. There’s a dropoff in potential after Bauer in free agency. Other options include Jake Odorizzi, James Paxton, José Quintana, Jake Arrieta and Corey Kluber.

The Dodgers could trade for a top starter. Tampa Bay Rays left-hander Blake Snell and Cincinnati Reds right-hander Sonny Gray are reportedly available. They are in their primes and under contract at below-market rates through 2023. But they would cost the Dodgers significant prospects. The Dodgers could prefer to keep their top young talent after trading several prospects in recent years to address short-term needs.

Bauer would cost only money. The Newhall Hart High graduate and former UCLA star previously said he would sign only one-year deals throughout his career but appears to have changed his mind. The Dodgers would likely entertain adding Bauer only if he is open to a short-term deal.

The approach would be similar to when they pursued Bryce Harper two winters ago. Harper wanted to commit to a franchise for the rest of his career. The Dodgers instead offered him a four-year deal worth at least $40 million per season. He chose to sign a 13-year, $330-million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Dodgers landed another superstar outfielder a year later when the Boston Red Sox traded them Mookie Betts. Five months later, he signed a 12-year contract extension. Three months after that, the Dodgers won the World Series. The patience paid off.

The Dodgers weren’t desperate for Harper and they’re not desperate for Bauer. Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw should provide one of the best one-two punches in baseball in 2021. David Price is slotted in as the No. 3 after opting out of the 2020 season. Julio Urías dominated out of the bullpen in October, but he’ll be in the starting rotation in 2021. Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May were two of the best rookies in the sport. Josiah Gray, another right-handed prospect, will get his chance too.

Bauer, though, could provide valuable insurance. Injuries happen. Rotation depth is almost always tested. Then there’s Kershaw’s future. Kershaw, who turns 33 in March, is a free agent after 2021. The Dodgers want the future Hall of Famer to retire with the franchise, but nothing is guaranteed.

Trevor Bauer won the 2020 National League Cy Young award after compiling a 1.73 earned-run average in 11 starts for the Cincinnati Reds.

(Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press)

Bauer could soften the blow. He won the National League Cy Young Award last month after compiling a 1.73 earned-run average in 11 starts for the Cincinnati Reds. The right-hander finished his year by holding the Atlanta Braves to two hits across 7 2/3 scoreless innings in Game 1 of the wild-card series. He struck out 12 and walked none.

But Bauer’s competition — limited by the 60-game, regionalized schedule — was relatively weak. The National League and American League Central were arguably the two worst divisions in the majors in 2020. The divisions had seven teams make the playoffs. All seven were eliminated in the wild-card series.

The only other elite season on Bauer’s resumé came in 2018 when he had a 2.21 ERA in 28 games — 27 starts — for Cleveland. He was traded to Cincinnati the next summer just days after he threw a baseball from the mound over the center field wall as Cleveland manager Terry Francona emerged to remove him from a game in Kansas City.

The episode sparked more questions about Bauer. While he’s an athlete obsessed with getting the most out of his body, he’s also rubbed people the wrong way. He was quoted in a Sports Illustrated story published in February 2019 as saying, “I’m good at two things in this world: throwing baseballs and pissing people off.”

Bauer has worked to take control of his image. He created his own media network to connect with fans. He’s used the media to take shots at opponents, offer pitching tips and address his free agency. It’s something baseball has never seen from a player.

Last weekend, he posted a video on YouTube counting down the top five fanbases’ recruiting pitches. The Dodgers’ fanbase didn’t make the list. The Angels were No. 1.

But a fanbase’s pleas aren’t the reason a player chooses a franchise. Money, contention and location are usually the driving factors. The Dodgers fit the criteria.