With less than a month to go until pitchers and catchers report for spring training, the top of the free-agent market is starting to move. Two of the five best players in the class have agreed to terms in the past week: DJ LeMahieu with the Yankees and George Springer with the Blue Jays. Another, J.T. Realmuto, has reportedly received a nine-figure offer from the Phillies. Add in how Marcus Stroman accepted the Mets' qualifying offer at winter's onset, and that leaves just one top-five free agent with an undefined market: reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer.
In the olden time, before the offseason became a four-month slog, this would be the period of the winter where leftover top free agents would have to weigh taking a one-year deal. What makes Bauer different is that he's on record as preferring that route as a means of maximizing his career earnings and avoiding rotten situations. With that in mind, we decided to highlight three teams who could, perhaps, rise to the occasion and deliver a one-year contract worthy of a top free agent's signature.
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It's worth keeping mind that this is mostly for entertainment purposes: Bauer has seemingly backed away from that thinking, and who can blame him? Look around, dear reader, and ask yourself: are the hands on the wheel my own? Are you confident enough in the answer to sacrifice security for opportunity? Or do you agree that there are existential threats abound; be it a frayed tendon, a tattered labrum, a man in tacky garb stepping to a legend in a public forum. There's a lot that can and does go wrong here, on this sometimes sad plane of existence, and a perfectly reasonable response to that is to take the fattest check that is offered and to try to stake out a little bit of happiness until the whole enterprise goes belly up.
Before we get to all the gory details, here's what CBS Sports wrote about Bauer when he was ranked as the third best player on the market coming into the offseason:
Heading into the 2020 season, Bauer's career numbers held an uncanny resemblance to those posted by A.J. Burnett through the same period of his career. He created separation this season, amassing a 1.73 ERA and a 5.88 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 11 starts and 73 innings. Bauer has long had the stuff and, according to his press clippings, the intelligence to be a frontline starter. He's now put together the results supporting that notion in two of the past three seasons. Can he keep it up? That's one of a few questions teams will have to answer, beginning with how he improved his spin rate just a few years after implying it was possible only through the use of substances. Another one is whether he's compatible on a long-term deal. Bauer fell out of favor in both Arizona and Cleveland, and he hasn't always covered himself in glory on social media . Weather changes moods just as sure as Sturgill changes words; if Bauer wants to follow suit, changing his perception into a staff leader in every sense of the term, then he'll need to do more than continue to pitch well.
Now, onto the stated purpose of the article. Note that the teams are presented in alphabetical order, and that we've excluded some teams -- like the Mets and the Angels -- who have already seemingly addressed their rotation needs.
The Dodgers are reportedly "monitoring" Bauer's market. That could just be a case of a smart team doing its due diligence. The Dodgers are estimated by Cot's Contracts to be less than $6 million under the luxury-tax line, and they have apparent needs at third base and either second base or left field. Their solutions at those spots will push them into the tax, and maybe into the surtax ($20-plus million over).
The Dodgers have the financial means to go all-in, pay Bauer too, and run into the dreaded Red Zone -- that is, $40-plus million over, which triggers the steepest penalties, including draft-pick downgrading. Are they likely to do that? We're doubtful considering they haven't even exceeded the tax threshold since 2017.
That established, minimizing the risk of a massive free-agent contract by making it a one-year pact is exactly the kind of thing Andrew Friedman would do, isn't it?
If not the Dodgers, what about the Giants? After all, San Francisco is managed generally by Farhan Zaidi, a former Friedman underling who seems willing to embrace Bold Ideas if they help close the gap in the National League West. Zaidi has already re-signed Kevin Gausman and added Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood to his rotation this winter. What's one more addition?
The Giants' Opening Day payroll is projected to be $20 million lower than it was last year, and they're so far away from the tax line that it's not even a real consideration. To wit, the Giants could give Bauer a one-year contract worth $40 million without coming within $20 million of the threshold.
Again, we're skeptical that the Giants (or any other team) would do it. The Giants did make a run at Bryce Harper a few winters back, however, so it wouldn't be the first time under Zaidi's watch that they served as a dark horse for a pricey free agent.
3. Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have already netted one major free agent this week. If they liked that experience, they could theoretically relive it by chasing after Bauer.
Toronto is in an interesting spot. On paper, the Blue Jays appear to be the second best team in the American League East. Even so, their rotation is an obvious sore spot, and they'll be doing a lot of hoping and praying unless they can find one more solid starter between now and Opening Day. Bauer would seem to qualify.
Even with Springer in the fold, the Blue Jays are projected to have a lower Opening Day payroll this year than last. Their tax situation is, as with the Giants, nonexistent. The Blue Jays could give Bauer a one-year deal worth $80 million … yes, $80 million … and still avoid penalty.
Heck, the Blue Jays could give Bauer $50 million and their payroll wouldn't be as high in 2021 as it was in either 2017 or 2018. In other words, the Blue Jays should have the ability to land someone like Bauer if they want to -- even if they decide they'd rather land him on a more conventional contract.