Saturday, February 6, 2021

Mets Dodge A Bullet On Bauer

Trevor Bauer. @BauerOutage.

Trevor Bauer, the best pitcher on the free agent market, announced on Friday afternoon, in a slickly-produced YouTube video, that he would be joining the World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers instead of the Mets.

The Dodgers gave Bauer, last year's National League Cy Young winner, a three-year, $102 million contract. He will make a record $40 million this season and $5 million in 2002. That is the highest annual salary in all of baseball, which the Dodgers can well afford, but they are taking an incredible risk.

That was a risk the Mets did not need to take, as they have arguably the best pitcher in baseball, Jacob deGrom, winner of two Cy Young Awards, anchoring the rotation. They also will be getting the returns of Thor, Noah Syndergaard, and Marcus Stroman, both of whom can be exceptional when they're "on" but not enough to warrant the hype, so why spent basically $40 million per season to get a third pitcher you could describe exactly the same way?

Where it hurts the Mets, and particularly owner Steve Cohen, is that they have now missed out on all the major free agents this offseason - Bauer, center fielder George Springer, who left the Houston Astros for a six-year, $150 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, and American League Batting Champion D.J. LeMahieu, who re-signed with the Yankees for the relative bargain of six years and $90 million.

Cohen promised things would be different with him as owner, compared to the stingy Wilpons, that they would be serious contenders for free agents, so this is certainly a major letdown for Mets fans. This is part of a tough month for the Mets, as they had to dismiss their new general manager, Jared Porter, for sending lewd messages to a reporter, answering questions about the conduct of their former manager Mickey Callaway, in a similar scandal, and seeing their owner mixed up in the GameStop stock mania, which led to him signing off of Twitter, where he was engaging fans, part of his way to also be different than his predecessors.

Bauer is a lightning rod, especially on social media, so they basically will have to dust off how they treated malcontent outfielder Yasiel Puig, so he is a definite threat to the chemistry that team has built.

The other thing is that Bauer, though very well-hyped, has never been close to the best pitcher in baseball. The right-hander's career record is 75-64 with a 3.90 ERA in nine seasons, most of which were spent with the Cleveland Indians, where he was second or third in the rotation, which was anchored by Corey Kluber, winner of two Cy Young Awards who just signed a one-year, $11 million contract with the Yankees after two injury-riddled season. Bauer benefited by being associated with such an accomplished team, seeing his value inflated and his profile burnished with his outlandish antics.

Bauer's best season in Cleveland was 2017, when he went 17-9, but his ERA was a steep 4.19, along with throwing 176.1 innings, allowing 181 hits, 84 runs (82 earned), an absurd 25 home runs, 60 walks, while striking out 196. 

In 2018, he lowered his ERA to 2.21, and went 12-6, but then took a major step back in 2019, when he went 9-8, 3.70 ERA, with the Indians before he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds at the trade deadline, and he went 2-5 with a 6.39 ERA in 10 starts.

In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Bauer dominated, as he lowered his ERA to 1.73, while going 5-4 in 11 starts, with two complete games and two shutouts, both of which were in seven-inning games.

That is just the first of many differences that must be noted about last season, which is why the Dodgers better hope they weren't duped.

Last season, since they played only 60 games due to a labor dispute around pay once they couldn't play a full season due to the pandemic, teams only played their own division and then the geographical equivalent in the other league.

That meant that Bauer's team, the Cincinnati Reds, only played their fellow teams in the National League Central, and then interleague games against the American League Central - two of the weakest divisions in baseball.

Bauer's 11 starts broke down like this: 3 vs. Milwaukee Brewers (29-31), 2 vs. Chicago Cubs (34-26), 2 vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (19-41), 2 vs. Detroit Tigers (23-35), 1 vs. Kansas City Royals (26-34), and 1 vs. Chicago White Sox (35-25). He did not face the three best teams that he could have faced, the Minnesota Twins (36-24), Cleveland Indians (35-25), and St. Louis Cardinals, who were 30-28 because of how many games they lost due to pandemic protocols, and feature a fearsome lineup.

The Reds, who went 31-29, did make the expanded postseason field, where they did not score a run in two games in their three-game series against the Atlanta Braves.

Bauer pitched the first game, where he did live up to the hype, and threw 7 2/3 shutout innings, allowing two hits and no walks, with 12 strikeouts, in a game the Braves won 1-0 in 13 innings.

That was by far his best postseason outing, after being mediocre in his playoff outings with the Indians, such as against the Yankees in the 2017 ALDS when he went 1-1 in tn two games, and only pitched 8 1/3 innings, allowing four runs on six hits and three walks, with 11 strikeouts.

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