Trevor Bauer became a free agent on Thursday, but the market will be a lot more hostile toward the 2020 National League Cy Young Award winner than it was two winters ago, when Bauer signed a three-year, $102-million deal with the Dodgers after turning down a lucrative offer from the New York Mets.
“The only guy who I know for sure would sign him is Al Davis,” one high-ranking major league executive said, referring to the renegade Oakland Raiders owner who relished his organization’s bad-boy image right up until his death in 2011.
Bauer was designated for assignment last Friday, the Dodgers choosing to sever ties with the right-hander — and swallow the remaining $22.5 million on his contract — rather than face the potential public backlash of retaining him.
The Dodgers were unable to trade Bauer by Thursday, the end of a seven-day window in which they had to deal him, and the embattled pitcher was given his unconditional release.
Bauer, 32, is eligible to return this season after his 324-game suspension for a violation of Major League Baseball’s sexual assault and domestic violence policy was reduced by an arbitrator to 194 games on Dec. 22, a decision the MLB said it “will abide by” despite its belief that “a longer suspension was warranted.”
The Dodgers had 14 days from that point to reinstate or release Bauer, and they went all the way up to last Friday’s end-of-business-day deadline, even meeting with Bauer in Arizona the day before, to announce in a one-paragraph press release that Bauer “will no longer be part of our organization.”
The odds of a deal in the week the Dodgers had to trade him were remote considering any team interested in Bauer could sign him for the major league minimum salary of $720,000 and not give up any prospects.
Bauer is now free to pursue a job with any team, but is there a team willing to employ him?
The Times reached out to 16 front-office executives, most of them team presidents and general managers, to see whether they had any interest in signing Bauer, who went 8-5 with a 2.59 ERA in 17 starts with the Dodgers in 2021 but hasn’t pitched in a professional game in 19 months.
Of the 11 who responded, seven were a hard “no,” one said, “I doubt it,” one said, “We are probably out,” and two declined to comment altogether, with one of those executives saying, “I’m not touching that topic.”
But that doesn’t necessarily mean MLB has seen the last of Bauer, who has an 83-69 career record and 3.79 ERA in 10 big league seasons and won his Cy Young Award with the Cincinnati Reds in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
“He’s so affordable, I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody does sign him and weathers the storm for spring training and the first two weeks of the season and then hopes it kind of dies down,” said one GM who was granted anonymity to speak freely about the situation.
“Maybe it’s not spring training [that Bauer signs], maybe it’s May 1 or June 1, maybe it’s more strategically timed for a team to get out of spring training and avoid the early noise, but I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t play again.”
A San Diego woman who met Bauer in May of 2021 requested a restraining order against him, providing medical records that showed she was diagnosed with “assault by manual strangulation” and “acute head injury” after the second of two sexual encounters with Bauer.
The restraining order was denied by a judge who ruled Bauer posed no future threat to the woman. Bauer maintains the sex was rough but consensual. He has not been charged with a crime but still received the longest suspension ever levied under baseball’s domestic violence policy.
Bauer’s case is also the only one with more than one publicly known accuser; two Ohio women made similar allegations to the Washington Post, which the league considered in determining Bauer’s suspension.
“I’ve asked my wife, I’ve asked the wife [of another team executive], how would you feel if we, as an organization, signed someone with this type of history,” another GM said. “The responses were not favorable.”
The Houston Astros acquired Roberto Osuna from the Toronto Blue Jays at the trade deadline in 2018 while the closer was serving a 75-game suspension in the wake of his arrest in Toronto for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend.
Osuna went 4-3 with a 2.63 ERA and 38 saves in 2019 for the Astros, who lost a seven-game World Series to Washington, but he missed most of 2020 because of an elbow injury and was let go after the season.
Osuna pitched in Mexico in 2021 and in Japan in 2022, going 4-1 with an 0.91 ERA and 10 saves in 29 games for the Chiba Lotte Marines last season, but he is struggling to find another major league job.
Bauer will likely face similar roadblocks as he attempts to return.
“Obviously,” one GM said, “it’s a delicate subject.”