Free-agent debate: Where will Bauer land?

November 12th, 2020

The Hot Stove season is underway, and much of the free-agent attention will focus on five players: J.T. Realmuto, Trevor Bauer, George Springer, DJ LeMahieu and Marcell Ozuna. Where will these players land? reporters are gathering roundtables to discuss.

Today’s installment is , named as the 2020 National League Cy Young Award winner on Wednesday.

Alyson Footer (@alysonfooter, moderator): Let’s start with the most intriguing part of Bauer’s free agency. He has said many times in the past that he will consider signing one-year deals every year for the rest of his career, partly to ensure he’s always pitching for a contender. But recently, his agent has said they will also consider long-term offers. Which way does he go this offseason?

Mark Sheldon (@m_sheldon, Reds beat reporter): I think it could very well be one-year deals because the economics aren't great this winter. However, if anyone would make an over-the-top multi-year offer for Bauer to chew on, it will be the Mets and their new owner.

Richard Justice (@richardjustice, national reporter): This is his opportunity to do something special financially. He's not going to walk by this. He's a stubborn guy, but he's not dumb. The question is about the market and can he approach the $30 million per year threshold.

Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports, reporter/editor): I’ve been working off the expectation that the one-year deals concept will go away -- given the more recent indications from his agent, and also the state of the market. With Marcus Stroman accepting the qualifying offer, Bauer is set up to be the one big, multi-year deal this offseason for a pitcher.

Rhett Bollinger (@RhettBollinger, Angels beat reporter): I think it depends on how the market shapes up for him. We saw Stroman accept the qualifying offer of $18.9 million to remain with the Mets but Bauer is considered the best starting pitcher available. There are going to be some teams desperate for starting pitching, including the Angels, and Bauer could land a huge deal near $30 million per year, as Richard said.

Justice: Also, this is the perfect storm. He's a true No. 1 (based on 2020), and there isn't another one. The Mets and Red Sox are looking for pitching and apparently ready to spend. The Angels HAVE to add pitching. Probably others. Big offseason for Bauer.

Sheldon: How many clubs are out there that take on that salary burden?

Justice: That's the rub for this offseason. Who is going to spend? How quickly does the industry think we're back to normal?

Footer: Let’s start with the team Bauer played for the past two seasons -- the Reds. Mark, how realistic do you think it is for Bauer to re-sign with them?

Sheldon: I do think it's realistic the Reds will be in the hunt, especially if it's in the one-year deal category. Talking to the local beat reporters near the end of the season and ahead of the postseason, he maintained he liked the Reds, his teammates, the fans and the city. One of his stipulations is to join a team with a chance to win and where he can be successful. He noted the Reds had both. Add to that his friendship with mentor Kyle Boddy, who works for the Reds, and his enjoyment of working with pitching coach Derek Johnson and manager David Bell ... and Cincinnati has a shot.

Footer: Do we think the Reds will be a contender in '21? Does Bauer?

Sheldon: If the Reds add another impact bat, they should be able to contend. Bauer was a strong pitcher for a strong rotation. Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo are right there and the club likes Tyler Mahle and others. Hunter Greene isn't far away. This could be a staff to reckon with for a while. Most of Cincinnati's issues in '20 (and '19) were offense-related. They haven't hit.

Langs: The pitching was the strength there, and that offense needs a lot of help. Jesse Winker’s year is definitely a good sign, but the Reds were last in MLB in batting average and were 27th in runs scored. The path to a good offense is definitely there -- Nick Castellanos, Aristides Aquino, Winker, Mike Moustakas, Eugenio Suárez and Joey Votto all had years that we might expect of them and have seen in the past, in certain cases. But it feels like they need another bat, like Mark said.

Footer: Our executive reporter, Mark Feinsand, recently speculated on the teams that may pursue Bauer, and the list is longer than that of any other free agent: Reds, Yankees, Twins, Red Sox, White Sox, Angels, Mets, Cubs and Giants. Most of the industry thinks the Angels will be huge players in the Bauer sweepstakes. How well would he fit into that rotation?

Bollinger: Bauer would be an excellent fit for the Angels, who have lacked a top-of-the-rotation starter for several years and are looking to compete and build around players such as Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and Shohei Ohtani. One issue, however, is the Angels have yet to hire a new general manager. But no matter whom they hire, they will have immense interest in Bauer.

Justice: I feel like the Angels are at the put-up-or-shut-up phase of Mike Trout's career. They're going to have to do a big-time recruiting pitch on Bauer with a big, big number on the contract. Does that make them more attractive than the Mets? It feels like Steve Cohen wants to do something dramatic, or several somethings. That's what's so fascinating. There's a really logical case to be made for about 10 teams to sign Trevor Bauer.

Footer: How big of an issue is the GM situation, really? In the past, owner Arte Moreno has been a vocal presence in the Angels' dealings. I suspect he'd be tempted to throw a multi-year offer at Bauer.

Bollinger: They've now gone through five straight losing seasons despite having Trout on the roster and Moreno is getting impatient and wants to put a winner on the field. Moreno will absolutely be a vocal presence again, no matter who the new GM is and has shown in the past that he's willing to spend and dole out huge multi-year deals. It was Moreno who wanted Rendon and we'll see how badly he wants Bauer.

Justice: Does one starting pitcher do it for the Angels? The AL West may not have a monster team outside of Oakland, and the A's are hard to predict.

Langs: The Angels had a 5.52 starters ERA in 2020. The only team worse was the Tigers, at 6.37, who are in an entirely different phase of working towards competing -- and don’t have a Hall of Fame caliber player in his prime on their roster. One starter might not be enough for the rotation overall, but to Richard’s point, maybe it’s enough at least within the division.

Footer: The Mets have a new owner and a new commitment to long-term success. Listening to Steve Cohen say “I want something great” in his introductory press conference, I felt like the Mets are going to be legitimately in on a lot of free agents. Wouldn’t Bauer be a good way to make a splash?

Justice: The Mets are hurting for starting pitching. You could make the case their young position players are the strength of the team. So [Jacob] deGrom, Stroman and Bauer would be a nice start.

Sheldon: On Twitter, Bauer sarcastically addressed the concerns of his fitting in with the Mets. So I'm guessing he's ready for those questions as he explores the idea of playing in New York.

Here's a question that might be relevant for the Mets or any other club looking to sign him ... could they let him pitch every fourth day instead of every fifth? He's been pushing for this in Cincinnati and they've been open to the idea.

Langs: Cohen used the word "analytics" multiple times in his introductory presser. I’d say that if Bauer can present an analytically minded or data-driven reason that he should be pitching on what we’d now consider an atypical schedule, at least based on that initial statement, it does seem like the Mets would at least listen to it. And I’d imagine Bauer has something to back it up, a "why."

Footer: Let’s discuss the other side of the Bauer debate -- his, ahem, unique personality.

Justice: That’s what I want to ask Mark -- it always comes up with Bauer. How did he fit in the clubhouse? Was he liked? Does it matter whether he's liked or not?

Sheldon: Bauer is definitely an interesting cat. He has his own program that works for him and he carries a machine that measures his blood levels on the road. It looks like a 1993 fax machine. But he got along with his teammates and one of his catchers, Tucker Barnhart, noted he was a great teammate. He communicated well with the other pitchers like Gray and Castillo and he wasn't afraid to talk with younger guys like Tejay Antone. He's also mentored Greene during the shutdown. Media-wise, he was mostly good. He could be testy, for sure, when games weren't won that he felt he/they should have won. And on social media, he's definitely a loose cannon.

Justice: Are the Yankees out of the mix because of his uneasy relationship with Gerrit Cole?

Footer: I've heard Bauer say in that past that the feud with Cole has been slightly overblown, for what it’s worth. Bauer’s personality seems like something teammates would be cool with and opponents would be annoyed by. That's not so bad, right? He's a little edgy, but who cares?

Sheldon: He can be a polarizing figure, namely on social media. He's not afraid to fire darts at anybody ... whether it's the league, other clubs, other players etc. There are times he's mixed it up with fans and went below the belt. Clubs will have to consider that too.

But here’s what Barnhart said last week: "The guy's a bulldog, he's a competitor, he wants to rip your head off when you're playing against him, but he's one of the nicest dudes to be a teammate of.”

Justice: Personality-wise, the Yankees might be a great fit. Because, like Roger Clemens, he would understand that he's part of something huge -- the most famous franchise in sports. Roger worked hard to fit in. It would be interesting to see how Bauer would adapt.

Bollinger: It would fit in with the Angels to bring them some edginess that they currently lack. He also has a prior relationship with Angels top prospect Jo Adell, as he hosted him on his vlog in Spring Training. Bauer seemed genuinely curious about what it's like to play with stars such as Trout and Rendon.

Footer: Last question. Now comes the part where I put you on the spot. You have to pick one team where he’ll sign. What say you? Go!

Justice: Mets.

Sheldon: Before this week, I would have predicted the Padres. But now I say Mets also, now that the sale of the team is complete.

Langs: Mets.

Bollinger: I would say the Mets with their new ownership but you can't rule out the Angels. This is their chance to finally get a top-tier starting pitcher and he's a native Southern Californian.