The Metropolitan: 5 thoughts on the Trevor Bauer news

A special edition newsletter

The final 24 hours of the Trevor Bauer sweepstakes felt like a season finale of The Bachelor. After investing months watching the drama unfold, everyone around baseball was fascinated to see which of his two main suitors would be left standing. While the Mets spent a night in the honeymoon suite as the reported “favorites” to sign him, the Dodgers ended up with the final rose. And just like the reality TV series, there’s no guarantee the new marriage will work out.

Where does this leave the Mets? We will have plenty of newsletters to discuss how the team should pivot in finalizing their roster. But before we get into all of that, let’s put a bow on the Trevor Bauer news and hopefully give you some perspective in thinking about what missing out on the 2020 Cy Young Award winner means.

1) The Mets are officially a big market team

The Mets reportedly offered a higher overall value than the Dodgers, and about $40 million in each of the first two seasons of a three-year deal, with opt-outs. It seems like it came down to the Dodgers willingness to come close to that number and give the polarizing pitcher a reason to play near where he grew up, which they did.

In some ways, this works out for the Mets in that they prove to their fan base that they’re willing to shop at the most expensive prices, while they also get to avoid the headaches that come with Bauer (more on this in a bit), and maintain flexibility in being able to bolster their roster elsewhere.

Had the Mets secured the right-hander, they would have blown past the initial luxury tax threshold. And the fact that the New York Metropolitans are even in the conversation for a pitcher set to make a ridiculous salary tells you everything you need to know about the benefits of new ownership.

2) The offseason has still been good

Undoubtedly, many Mets fans are disappointed in the names of top free agents who were linked to the team this offseason but ultimately signed elsewhere: George Springer, J.T. Realmuto, and now Bauer.

However, the trade market has turned into a nice supplement to free agency. The Amazins have added the best player of any team in Francisco Lindor. And it wouldn’t be surprising if Carlos Carrasco put up similar numbers to Mr. Bauer (seriously, it really wouldn’t be).

Yes, a rotation featuring Carrasco and Bauer in his elite form, on top of Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, and eventually a healthy Noah Syndergaard would have been amazing. Instead, the Dodgers will enter the season with a staff that looks like it was just announced as the National League All-Star team. It is worth mentioning that losing Bauer to LA does carry some extra significance if you believe the Mets are contenders to dethrone them as world champions.

That said, the Mets aren’t done yet.

3) Let’s see what the front office does now

While it’s unclear whether the club will repurpose the money offered to Bauer on different players, you have to imagine they aren’t done shopping.

Jackie Bradley Jr. has been tied to them as a potential centerfield fit (although the outfield puzzle remains unsettled as we wait to see what happens to the DH rule). The team could also use another starter, and Jake Odorizzi has connections to pitching coach Jeremy Hefner, although SNY reports the team is out on him.

3B Kris Bryant remains an intriguing trade option in Chicago. And who knows what the Bauer signing means for former Met Justin Turner. Pretty much anyone who follows the game knows it would take a lot to pry him away from Los Angeles, but the Dodgers are already pushing a huge tax bill, so perhaps this creates an opening for other suitors.

It’s also important to factor in the compensatory pick that would have been forfeited had the Mets signed Bauer. Since the Reds extended him a qualifying offer and he signed for more than $50 million guaranteed, they gain a draft pick in-between the first round and Competitive Balance A Round, while the Mets would have lost their 46th overall pick and $500,000 from their international bonus pool.

If the Mets pivot in a smart way, while saving flexibility to go big on future free agents and protecting their draft picks, this could work out for them.

4) Which Trevor Bauer will the Dodgers get?

Mets fans have been fortunate to experience dominance from the hill every fifth day with Jacob deGrom. The only pitcher to best him in the Cy Young race over the past three seasons almost ended up as his rotation mate.

Trevor Bauer led the National League with a microscopic 1.73 ERA last year, while pitching 2 complete-game shutouts and allowing a league-best 0.795 walks + hits per innings pitched. He deserved to win the Cy Young, and he did.

But just as good as he was in a short 2020, he was mediocre in 2019, and in five of the seven full seasons he has pitched in the majors, his ERA has climbed above four runs.

The Mets missed out on another potential ace in Trevor Bauer, but potential is the key word, as there’s no guarantee his performance will remain elite in 2021 and beyond, which leads to the next point.

Although I’ve never met a person who lives in an actual glass house and I’m certain if I did, I wouldn’t find them throwing stones in it, if you are familiar with the saying, it would seem to apply to Trevor Bauer and using a foreign substance to spike his spin rate.

In a Players’ Tribune article from last February Bauer elaborated on his accusation that the Astros were using “sticky substances in 2018 to generate more spin on their pitches. He got very specific:

“I mean, when I see a guy go from being a good pitcher for one team and spinning the ball at 2,200 rpm, to spinning the ball at 2,600 or 2,700 in Houston, I know exactly what happened…I’ve been chasing spin rate since 2012…But eight years later, I haven’t found any other way except using foreign substances.”

Fast forward seven months, pull up Bauer’s spin rate chart and you find this:

Bauer’s spin rate on his 4-seam fastball went from an average of 2,412 rpm in 2019 (when he pitched to a 4.48 ERA and hitters slugged .574 off it) to a convenient 2,776 rpm in 2020 (when he won the Cy Young Award and nearly cut that previous year’s opponent slugging percentage in half to .319).

Hmm… What could have happened to make his spin rate jump nearly 400 rpm? Let’s go back to Mr. Bauer’s own words:

“When I see a guy go from being a good pitcher for one team and spinning the ball at 2,200 rpm, to spinning the ball at 2,600 or 2,700 in Houston, I know exactly what happened.”

For what it’s worth, Bauer denied using pine tar without explicitly saying he wasn’t using something else in response to a Twitter comment in September.

So why does spin rate matter, anyway? The combination of spin rate and velocity is what dictates movement on a pitch. On a fastball, the right mix of speed and backspin can create an elusive “rise” effect. While the pitch is not actually “rising” due to the laws of gravity, a “rising fastball” takes longer to drop than a regular pitch. This causes hitters to either swing under the ball and miss it, or often times, miss the barrel of the bat as they believe the pitch will finish in a different location than it does.

Last season, equipped with a higher spin rate on a fastball that actually lost 1 MPH over the previous season, Bauer’s vertical movement vs the average ranked highest in baseball. As a result, he generated more whiffs on his 4-seamer than ever before, and exchanged line drives (hard hit balls) for fly balls and pop-ups (easy outs).

Of course, it’s no secret that pitchers use different tricks to create stickiness in gripping the baseball. An Angels clubhouse attendant was recently thrown under the bus for administering ball-doctoring substances. Several star pitchers have been linked to using something to help them achieve better spin rates (such as Bauer’s long-standing rival Gerrit Cole, and Justin Verlander).

Trevor Bauer’s name is often mentioned because he was so outspoken against it, and the numbers so obviously changed over the past year. Whether he continues to use whatever he seems to have been using, nobody knows. MLB sent a memo last season reminding teams of the rules against applying foreign substances, but it’s unclear what they will enforce. Either way, it is a factor to consider in whether Bauer can continue his 2020 dominance in a new season.

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5) Did the Mets really want this guy?

An offseason that was supposed to be about the Mets announcing themselves as a big market team (which, they have) has been less celebratory than it should be due to stories linking two former employees to sexual harassment - former manager Mickey Callaway and short-lived GM Jared Porter.

Less than 24 hours after ESPN revealed then-GM Porter had sent lewd and unsolicited texts to a female reporter, Steve Cohen swiftly fired him and tweeted:

“We have terminated Jared Porter this morning. In my initial press conference I spoke about the importance of integrity and I meant it. There should be zero tolerance for this type of behavior.”

While he has not been accused of the same kind of conduct, Trevor Bauer’s erratic behavior has been well documented, including in our newsletter several weeks back:

In 2019, the pitcher was accused of harassing a college student on social media, tagging her in 40 tweets, turning his followers against her and reducing her to tears. A few weeks later, he was entangled in a highly contentious arbitration battle against Cleveland in which he accused the club of “trying to demean my character.” And a few months after that, he was upset at being removed from a game, and, “consumed by emotional fire,” whirled a fastball into the centerfield stands as manager Terry Francona came to get him. Said his catcher Eddie Perez afterwards, “He was just being Trevor.” 

Since then, a New York Daily News reporter reminded everyone of Bauer’s attack on her after she commented about a video Bauer had posted about COVID-19. The pitcher quote-tweeted her with a wise remark and said, “let me send more followers your way.”

And his followers did this:

“I had death threats and Holocaust jokes in my mentions for months after he went after me,” Feldman tweeted last week after it was reported the Mets were interested in Bauer. “I didn’t tag him. I didn’t even (quote tweet) him. This is what his followers did after he told them to go after me. This is OK with his agent, reporters and, I guess, the Mets.”

For some, like the Post’s Ken Davidoff, this behavior was enough to disqualify Bauer as a free agent option, regardless of whether he can spin a fastball past most major league hitters. For others, Bauer’s Twitter interactions are no more serious than him chucking a baseball over the outfield wall in frustration.

This is part of the calculus the Mets front office had to consider when it came to signing Bauer. They know that baseball fans support players for more than just their on-field talent (was there a more popular Met than Mookie Wilson?). And they know some may lose interest in a team that ignores character in making their roster decisions.

Clearly, the front office and new ownership decided the pros of adding Bauer to their roster outweighed the cons, or they wouldn’t have made the aggressive offer that they did. But many Mets fans aren’t upset to see him headed to Los Angeles for the reasons described above.

And in the end, it may just work out for the franchise, enabling them to focus their resources on several other needs instead.

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That’s all for now. Talk to you on Monday!