In reading the proverbial tea leaves, it sounds like top free-agent starting pitcher Trevor Bauer is going to choose his new home before long. The consensus seems to be that there are two finalists here, one NL team on each coast in the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers. The Mets, however, appear to the be favorites to land the NL's reigning Cy Young winner.
With all due respect to some other good-looking rotations like the Padres, Nationals, White Sox, Braves, Cleveland, etc., it looks like the Bauer signing will cement one of the two suitors as the team with the best rotation in baseball -- at least, the best rotation on paper heading into spring training, and we know how things can change there.
Still, it's pretty exciting to have this kind of decision hanging here in early February, so let's take a look at the implications for both teams.
Starting at the top, the Mets have arguably the best pitcher in baseball in Jacob deGrom. Adding the 2020 NL Cy Young winner in Bauer gives the Mets two bona fide aces. They aren't lacking in mid-rotation guys, either.
There's Carlos Carrasco, who became an afterthought coming over in The Francisco Lindor Trade. Quite the lesser name, isn't he? Carrasco finished fourth in AL Cy Young voting in 2017. In 2018, he was 17-10 with a 3.38 ERA (128 ERA+), 1.13 WHIP and 231 strikeouts in 192 innings. He was sidelined with leukemia for part of the 2019 season, but he came back strong in 2020 with a 2.91 ERA (157 ERA+) and 82 strikeouts in 68 innings.
Marcus Stroman is inconsistent, but he's 51-47 overall with a 3.76 ERA (113 ERA+) in his career. His flashes of being a frontline starter include 2017 (3.09 ERA in 201 innings for the Blue Jays) and 2019 (3.22 ERA in 184 1/3 innings for the Jays and Mets). We've seen the All-Star upside and we've seen some tough-as-nails postseason starts.
He's their No. 4 if they sign Bauer. At least to start the year.
Don't forget about Noah Syndergaard. We've seen the upside and that is of an ace. Consistency has been an issue and he wasn't very good in 2019, but he has among the best raw stuff the game of baseball has ever seen. Before the down 2019 season, Syndergaard was 37-22 with a 2.93 ERA (132 ERA+) with 573 strikeouts in 518 1/3 career innings. We'll see how he is when he returns from Tommy John surgery, but doubting his talent level would be insane.
I'm willing to toss out the 2020 season for many players and Joey Lucchesi is in that group. In 2019 at age 26, he took 30 starts for the Padres, going 10-10 with a 4.18 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 158 strikeouts in 163 2/3 innings. He dominated through Double-A and essentially skipped Triple-A. I'm pretty intrigued to see how a softer-tossing lefty would work here with the hard-throwing righties. It certainly can't hurt to try with a No. 5 who looked around a league-average starter in a full season for the Padres two years ago.
New York also has David Peterson. The left-handed rookie had a 3.44 ERA (123 ERA+) in 49 2/3 innings last season. The former first-round pick out of the University of Oregon might need some minor-league seasoning, but there's enough here to believe he's a worthwhile No. 5 or spot starter in 2021.
That gives the Mets with Bauer a potential playoff rotation that could look something like:
- Stroman or Carrasco
That leaves either Stroman or Carrasco in relief along with Lucchesi and Peterson, if the Mets so choose.
Of course, there's also the possibility that the Mets are going so well at the time Syndergaard returns that they elect to see how he plays in the bullpen -- just for the rest of this season -- with a triple-digit heater and 90-plus mph slider in short spurts. I shudder to think how much of a postseason x-factor he could be as a late-inning strikeout weapon in a fireman role. In fact, with him coming back from TJ, this actually might be their best route with two aces and two starters capable of pitching like aces as their other four best options.
Regardless, there's top-shelf talent and depth here.
The Dodgers know what that's like.
As reliable as anything during this Dodgers streak of division titles, deep postseason runs and finally that elusive World Series title has been both elite talent and seemingly endless organizational depth.
The rotation, as things stand without Bauer, is perfectly capable of making a deep postseason run again.
Why did it seem like so many people missed the Clayton Kershaw mini-renaissance (only "mini" because he was never less than great) last year? Maybe it was the short season or people having just been overlooking them since his mid-prime years? Regardless, he posted his best ERA since 2016, his best WHIP since 2016 and best strikeout rate since 2017. He hits age 33 this season and there's no reason to think age truly catches up with him just yet.
Remember David Price? He opted out due to COVID-19 last season. Sure, he heads to his age-35 season, but he just saved an entire year on his arm. The four-time All-Star has a Cy Young and two runner-up finishes. For whatever reason, he's a bit maligned for his time in Boston, but he posted a 3.84 ERA (118 ERA+) in his time there with 609 strikeouts in 588 innings.
Don't forget about Tony Gonsolin, either, who sported a 2.31 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in 46 2/3 innings last season.
That's six starters already, without even mentioning Bauer.
Perhaps a playoff rotation would feature Bauer, Kershaw, Buehler and Price with May and Urias used in multi-inning reliever roles where they thrived at times in the 2020 postseason?
That's pretty stacked before we delve deeper into their pitching-staff depth including the bullpen.
In fact, it might not even seem like the Dodgers really need Bauer, at least not nearly as much as the Mets do. There's still very good reason to add him. Two reasons tied strongly to each other, actually:
- Because they can.
- It prevents anyone else from having him.
What better way to make sure you have the best chance to repeat in 2021 than to 1) improve the rotation talent and depth while 2) making sure other teams don't.