Trevor Bauer Better Be Worth the Dodgers’ Investment

Paying the highest annual salary in baseball history to the polarizing Cy Young winner may end up hurting the Dodgers in the not-so-distant future.
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There are two big winners in the Trevor Bauer sweepstakes. Neither one is the Dodgers.

The first winner is Bauer, who turned brash self-promotion and two strong seasons into the two highest annual salaries in MLB history. This deal is the validation that baseball’s Mark Zuckerberg has craved all along. It’s a giant middle finger in the faces of all those who questioned his methods, the perfect mic drop for all those who dared to doubt him.

The second is the Padres, the pesky title-less franchise two hours down the coast (without traffic, anyway). Their brilliant moves this offseason baited the rational Dodgers, three months after winning the World Series, into overspending for a starting pitcher they don’t need. Even if the Dodgers are still the better team this season, such a deal could prove restrictive for them and give San Diego the advantage moving forward.

Trevor Bauer

As the Dodgers see it, Bauer’s three-year, $102 million deal is a small price to pay the reigning NL Cy Young award winner to help them become the first repeat World Series champion in more than two decades. How could Los Angeles pass that up? Naturally, it isn’t that simple.

Bauer’s pitching shouldn’t be a problem, though it’s unrealistic to expect him to be as dominant as he was last year, when he posted a 1.73 ERA, 0.795 WHIP and 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings. He did this over just 73 innings and 11 starts, about a third of the typical workload for a top starting pitcher. Only one of his regular-season starts came against a team with an above-average offense.

Bauer will reportedly make $40 million this year and then $45 million in 2022 before his salary drastically reduces to $17 million in the contract’s final season. The deal includes two opt-outs, but he won’t opt out before making the $45 million. After all, this is the same person who told Sports Illustrated two years ago, “I want to be a billionaire. Not for any other reason than just to say I did it.”

So the Dodgers are tied to him for at least two years. Meanwhile, Clayton Kershaw and Corey Seager—two of their best and most beloved players—are set to become free agents after this season. Keeping one, or both of them, will become more difficult with so much invested in Bauer, especially with Cody Bellinger and Walker Buehler expected to get significant raises through arbitration and Mookie Betts making more than $20 million next year. The Dodgers are projected to spring well above the luxury tax line with Bauer on the books. Will ownership have the stomach to stay on that course for much longer? If so, it'd make Los Angeles the only franchise seemingly willing to do so for an extended period.

Bauer is also disliked by many players across the league and has the reputation of being a bad teammate. His childish antics are well-documented but less concerning than his more harmful actions.

He harasses people online, most notably in January 2019, when he responded to a Texas State student on Twitter, trolled her for more than a day and exposed that she had consumed alcohol underage. His followers tormented her to the point that she told USA Today she spent the next three days crying.

He has also promoted baseless conspiracy theories, one of which, in a tweet from Nov. 10, 2016, echoed a quote falsely attributed to philanthropist George Soros rooted in antisemitism. In May 2018, he carved “BD 911” into the Wrigley Field mound—which afterward he claimed said “BD 91.1” and was not a reference to the "Bush Did 9/11" conspiracy theory. He’s also questioned the scientifically proven role humans have played in climate change.

What’s worse is that more often than not he chooses to play the victim instead of showing actual remorse for his transgressions. As Bauer apparently sees it, he isn’t to blame for his harassing people because he’s been bullied all his life, and those who call him out for spewing hateful nonsense do so because they don’t understand him.

None of this comes as a surprise to the Dodgers. Their willingness to tolerate Bauer will depend on how well he pitches and whether they win, neither of which are guaranteed.

The Dodgers are making a lucrative investment in an iconoclastic 30-year-old with an inconsistent résumé. He better be worth it.