'A surreal moment': Bauer feels at home in LA

Dodgers 'organizational structure' top factor in reigning NL Cy Young winner's decision

February 12th, 2021

As a kid growing up in Southern California, 's first baseball memories were made at Dodger Stadium. He would sit in the outfield bleachers with his dad, plugging in his headphones in order to listen to Vin Scully call the game on the radio.

While sitting in the bleachers, Bauer never envisioned himself as a member of the Dodgers because of the larger-than-life illusion he had of the players on the team. He did, however, wonder what the lifestyle was like for those Dodgers players and how it felt to play in front of 50,000 fans on a nightly basis.

On Thursday, the Dodgers made their three-year, $102 million deal with Bauer official. It’s a contract that will pay the 30-year-old right-hander $40 million in 2021 and $45 million in '22, making him the highest-paid player in the Majors each of the next two seasons.

“It’s a surreal moment for me and something that I’m very proud of,” Bauer said while sporting his new No. 27 jersey during Thursday’s introductory press conference. “It’s a very surreal thing, sitting on the field and looking out at the stands, as opposed to sitting in the stands looking out at the field.”

When Bauer entered free agency for the first time in his career this winter, he admitted he didn’t know what to expect. He didn’t know how many teams would be interested, and he didn’t know how much money he would sign for. What he did know was what he was looking for in an organization.

Bauer wanted a partnership, as he called it. He was looking for an organization that was forward-thinking and had the same love and open-mindedness for analytics that he does. He was looking for an organization that would listen to his theories, including pitching every fourth day, even if the club doesn’t allow it. Coming back home to Southern California, where he went to high school and played college baseball at UCLA, was an added bonus. But his decision came down to joining the Dodgers' organization.

“Honestly, the locale didn’t have much of a factor,” Bauer said. “It was all about the organization, the talent level that’s here, the organizational structure, the systems that are in place, the people that are here. I’ve talked to a lot of players that have played here. A lot of players that have played for [manager Dave Roberts], a lot of players that have played for [president of baseball operations] Andrew [Friedman], and I haven’t heard a single negative thing. Everything that I was looking for in a home is here.”

The desire to win a World Series championship was also a big factor in Bauer’s decision.

“It wasn’t about the money for me,” Bauer said. “It’s about being part of something that’s bigger than myself, being part of an organization that can win. I want to win a World Series. I’ve come in second both in college and in the big leagues. I’m tired of it. I want to come in first.”

While Thursday served as a celebration for the organization, it didn’t always feel like the Dodgers would land Bauer during the process. Bauer was between the Dodgers and the Mets, and most signs pointed to the right-hander signing with New York after it had reportedly offered Bauer more money than Los Angeles.

Bauer said he woke up at 6 a.m. last Friday morning and had multiple talks with his agent, Rachel Luba, his parents, his friends and his financial advisors. They sat down and went through all the factors, from organizational fit to the tax ramifications of living in California or New York.

As Bauer was making his decision, Friedman admitted that he went to sleep last Thursday night “pretty bummed,” thinking that Bauer was going to choose the Mets. But last Friday, Dodgers controlling owner and chairman Mark Walter led a charge to meet Bauer’s contract demands. Clearly, it worked.

“Coming into the offseason, Trevor was very front and center for us, so we had a few different phone calls and stayed in contact,” Friedman said. “There were days where I felt optimistic and certain days that I didn’t. Our ownership group, Mark Walter, put some wind behind the sail and said, ‘Let’s go get this done,’ and fortunately, it wasn’t too late and we were able to get to this outcome. Couldn’t be more excited about it.”

Bauer is coming off his best season in the big leagues. He posted a 1.73 ERA and had 100 strikeouts in 73 innings for the Reds. That performance earned him the National League Cy Young Award, the first of his career.

Bauer also has plenty of postseason experience; he has a 2.94 ERA in 11 postseason games (seven starts). In the NL Wild Card Series against the Braves last year, Bauer allowed two hits and struck out 12 over 7 2/3 scoreless innings in Game 1.

The Dodgers didn’t need Bauer in order to try to win a second straight World Series championship. But having him join a rotation that already features Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Julio Urías and David Price doesn’t hurt. Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May are also available to start, giving the team exceptional depth.

While Friedman said the move to add Bauer wasn’t made as a response to the Padres’ busy offseason, it sent a message to the rest of the NL that the path to the World Series still runs through Los Angeles. Not many players could have instantly made the Dodgers' roster better, a testament to the talent on the team, but Bauer does.

“A lot of people have told me, if you can play for the Dodgers, you should,” Bauer said.

Soon, Bauer will, realizing a dream that not even he thought would be possible.