Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer was warned of possible discipline if he were to wear custom cleats that say "FREE JOE KELLY" on one shoe and have an illustration of the Dodgers pitcher on the other, Bauer told ESPN's Jeff Passan Wednesday.
Kelly is currently on the injured list, but will have to serve a five-game suspension when he comes off the list. The suspension, which was initially for eight games, comes after MLB said the veteran reliever threw at Astros third baseman Alex Bregman and shortstop Carlos Correa on July 29.
The players association said Wednesday night it was dismayed by the length of the ban.
“While we understand the concerns raised by the league with respect to a bench-clearing incident during this challenging season, we’re disappointed by the decision,” the union said. “It was an unfair result for Joe Kelly given the cases presented.”
MLB's footwear regulations state that "MLB and the Player's Club will each have discretionary rights to deny any proposed design." The regulations also say cleats "may contain writings, illustrations, and messages."
While Bauer told ESPN he believes the shoes fall within the regulations, ESPN says that, per the regulations, wearing them could lead to punishment.
"Players will be subject to progressive discipline for wearing designs that were not submitted for approval or for wearing footwear during a game that was denied approval by MLB or the Player's Club," the regulations state.
After the game, Bauer posted on Twitter that the league threatened to eject him if he took the field wearing the cleats, and that a suspension and "unprecedented fines" would follow.
Bauer has long been an outspoken critic of the Astros. In a February essay in the Players' Tribune, he wrote that he wished he would have been wrong when he claimed in 2018 that Houston was cheating.
At the time, he alleged the Astros pitchers were using an illegal substance to increase their spin rates, but he said what is now known about Houston's cheating is among the biggest stain's on baseball in the sport's history.
"Personally I think that what’s going on in baseball now is up there with the Black Sox scandal, and that it will be talked about forever—more so than steroids," Bauer wrote. "Like the steroid era, you can say what you want about it, but steroids weren’t really illegal at the time."
The Reds are in action Wednesday and face off against the Royals.