Barring disaster, it is effectively a two-year, $85 million contract since the only way he uses that option is if he’s hurt or terrible.
As the market for Bauer wound down, it was clear that two teams were left: the Dodgers and the Mets. For literally minutes, it seemed like the Mets were the choice, as Bob Nightengale reported as much. However, Boob did Boob things and Mark Feinsand quickly rebutted that report.
So at least there was that sideshow for our entertainment.
In the end, it seems both sides got what they want. Bauer is now the highest-paid player in baseball and the Dodgers get a front-of-the-rotation starter on a short-term deal.
Alright, since everybody must have a take, let’s get this out of the way first. Bauer’s off-the-field mess has been covered here before, and needless to say, I’m not the biggest fan of the guy and am already dreading the discourse that’s now sure to be a constant overdramatic mess. Aside from the fact that he acts like a 15-year-old who just discovered 4chan for the first time in general, in the end I just wish that going forward people stop the act where they pretend there’s no valid reason to dislike the dude or where they go around feigning confusion towards those who don’t care for him. It would save everybody so much time. If all you care about is baseball, then that’s your prerogative, but it’s also reasonable that people think he sucks.
While much of the focus has been on Bauer off the field, I also had concerns on the field of investing in him long-term. After all, he has a career 3.90 ERA, 3.85 FIP, and 4.33 DRA, with just two seasons below a 4.18 ERA and one of those being a shortened Cy Young Award campaign in 2020 where he faced a uniquely weak slate of opponents. There’s also the thing where he effectively called his own 2020 season out as pine-tar induced, providing his own evidence in retrospect. So all that would add up to him being a big risk to sink something like five years and $200 million into.
That said, two out of his last three seasons have been elite. He finished sixth in Cy Young Award voting in 2018 with a 2.21 ERA, 2.41 FIP, and 2.48 DRA in 2018 over 175.1 innings, and then obviously won in 2020 with a 1.73 ERA, 2.88 FIP, and 2.89 DRA over 73 innings. He also projects well in 2021, coming it at 3.60 ERA on ZiPS (6th in the MLB) and 3.62 ERA on The Bat (also 6th), though perhaps the biggest endorsement is that this front office seems to buy the breakout. Sure, he’s probably not going to be Bob Gibson reincarnated all of a sudden, but his arm has always been healthy and his last three years of a 3.18 ERA, 3.38 FIP, 11.2 K/9, and 3.0 BB/9 seems like a fair assessment of what expectations should look like going forward.
Additionally, Bauer clearly wanted to play for the Dodgers, is from the area, and is a match with their organizational philosophy, with Driveline Baseball alums already in the org. Another concern that has been frequently brought up were potential clubhouse issues, but the Dodgers already have a remarkably strong one in place. Bauer has had a few rocky relationships with players in the past, but generally it never seemed like he was a cancerous type of personality in the eyes of most of his peers, and most importantly I assume there was communication that took place between the front office and the leaders in the clubhouse to assure that they could handle any potential issues or that at least the move was worth the risk.
The signing does put the Dodgers on the brink of the harshest luxury tax penalties, but it’s what a team with their financial power should be doing. Other than the money, it’s not ideal to move back in the draft and lose international bonus pool money, but it’s honestly not a huge hinderance either.
While there’s understandable worry about how this impacts elite talents already on the Dodgers in terms of extensions, the fact that Bauer’s deal is for just three years limits the potential of any issues on this front as well. They have a ton of money coming off the books starting next season, so this shouldn’t impact any potential extensions for Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Walker Buehler, or even Clayton Kershaw.
Overall, there are always concerns with any big money signings due to the unknowns, just perhaps odder ones in Bauer’s case. Maybe he does or says something especially shitty off the field, maybe he causes a clubhouse issue, or maybe he just doesn’t perform that well. All possible, but the most likely outcome is that he’s at least a playoff quality rotation member, if not an outright ace, and most of the risk is mitigated by the length of the deal, assuming the Dodgers don’t suddenly decide to backtrack and get desperate to immediately get under the tax.
Personally, I would’ve preferred an even shorter deal, like a year less in all regards and he could take it or leave it. But as is it’s a deal for elite-level upside that avoids the pitfalls of having to pay for a player’s decline years, so it’s not hard to understand how this makes a lot of sense from Andrew Friedman‘s point of view.