The Indians Bet on Jake Bauers - Now He Needs to Prove They Were Right

Casey Drottar

For the most part, the Cleveland Indians excelled with trades in 2019.

They added significant power to their offense when they moved Trevor Bauer midseason. Their swap of Edwin Encarnacion for Carlos Santana was followed by the latter having the best season of his career.

“For the most part” was said for a reason, though.

Cleveland didn’t see the same success when dealing infielder Yandy Diaz to Tampa for outfielder and first baseman Jake Bauers. During his first year with the Tribe, Bauers disappointed both on the field and off it.

One season is obviously too early to declare a winner in this trade. However, saying the Indians need far more from Bauers in 2020 is the understatement of the year.

Cleveland fans were hardly thrilled to see Diaz’s departure. Despite proving to be a consistent hitter in intermittent playing time, the team was never willing to find him an everyday role. In trading Diaz away, it seemed the Indians were giving up on him too early.

If supporters were upset about this, what they saw from Bauers hardly eased their concerns. While his fielding was average, his offense left a ton to be desired.

For starters, comparing 2019 slash lines of Diaz and Bauers doesn’t exactly make Cleveland look wise for making this swap.

Diaz – .267/.340/.476
Bauers – .226/.312/.371

The deeper you dig in, the bleaker this trade looks.

In 2019, Bauers saw year-over-year decreases with the following stats – OBP, slugging percentage, OPS, RBIs, walks, walk rate, WAR and wRC+. His wRAA, which varied from average to great during his five-year stint in the minors, dropped to -8.6. One of the only notable increases seen was with Bauers’ strikeouts and strikeout rate.

Despite his struggles, the Indians seemed content to keep giving him opportunities. They waited and waited for Bauers to get going, continuing to provide him every day at-bats. They kept slotting him in or around the middle of the lineup, as 41% of his plate appearances came batting sixth.

It never paid off. Bauers continued to reward Cleveland’s patience with underwhelming offense. Even in June, when his slugging percentage (.506) and OPS (.787) hit their 2019 peaks, his strikeout rate increased (30.5%) while his walk rate plummeted (4.9%).

To his credit, Bauers did improve his plate discipline after being sent to the minors in August. Upon his return to Cleveland, he logged a significantly higher walk rate (25.0%). Also ballooning, though, was his strikeout rate (32.5%). Meanwhile, his slash line never looked worse than it did in September (.138/.350/.276).

Again, one year isn’t enough proof to determine winners and losers in a trade. Still, this move didn’t exactly get off to the right start for the Indians.

At the very least, it appears they’re well aware of this.

Manager Terry Francona said the team had a long exit interview with Bauers at season’s end, as he pushed the 24-year-old to focus on consistency and routines next season. This was due mostly to his ignoring these concepts last year.

Per Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com, Bauers would skip batting cage sessions on days after a solid game at the plate. Likewise, he wasn’t terribly interested in taking coaching advice following contests where he went hitless.

It goes without saying the Tribe needs to see significant progress from Bauers in 2020. He’s shown plenty of potential, but doing so less sporadically will be crucial in the season ahead.

In a bit of good news, initial projections see improvements ahead for Bauers. Both Steamers and FanGraphs predict increases in his slash line and a slight bump in WAR.

That said, projections have been wrong before. After all, Bauers’ slash line fell well short of what was predicted for him last season.

Steamers 2019 projection – .245/.329/.415
ZiPS 2019 projection –. 240/.329/.406

Achieving – or exceeding – what’s predicted for him in 2020 will require much more commitment from Bauers. The Indians showed throughout last season they were serious about betting on him, giving him numerous chances to prove investing in him was a smart call.

One would hope Bauers comes through for them this year. Otherwise, we can go ahead and chalk this trade up as a rare loss for Cleveland’s front office.

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