Sports

The Dodgers’ decision about Trevor Bauer is likely to change their future.

It had been a quiet afternoon around Chavez Ravine.

For much of Thursday, it was business as usual for the Dodgers front office. Most club personnel were preparing for the upcoming holiday weekend, and some executives had already scattered with Christmas Eve two days away.

Team officials weren’t anticipating any major news — especially regarding the status of Trevor Bauer’s appeal of a domestic violence suspension, a decision the club didn’t believe would be known for at least several more weeks, according to people with knowledge of the situation unauthorized to speak publicly.

By 5 p.m. PST, however, everything changed.

Major League Baseball announced an independent arbitrator reduced Bauer’s original 324-game suspension to 194 and made the pitcher immediately eligible, thus giving the Dodgers 14 days to either release him or put him back on their roster.

Team officials had only been alerted about the ruling roughly half an hour prior, people with knowledge of the situation said, and some staff didn’t learn about it until MLB’s public announcement.

“We have just been informed of the arbitrator’s ruling,” the Dodgers said in a statement, “and will comment as soon as practical.”

Ever since Bauer was suspended in April, the Dodgers received little information about where his appeal process stood.

Still, some team officials had been bracing in recent weeks for the suspension to be reduced. Though Bauer hadn’t played for the Dodgers since June 2021, when allegations against him first surfaced, and his original suspension was set to cover the remainder of his three-year, $102-million contract with the team, the possibility lingered that he would be reinstated for 2023.

Now, it’s a reality.

And what exactly comes next remains unclear.

During his appeal, the prevailing industry belief was that the pitcher would never take the mound in a Dodgers uniform again.

Yet, as of Thursday night, club executives were still discussing how they would proceed, according to people with knowledge of the situation, and could wait to make a final decision until closer to the Jan. 6 deadline to either release Bauer or activate him.

The team would like to gather more information about precisely what led to the arbitrator’s decision. But confidentiality rules in MLB’s sexual assault and domestic violence policy, which was jointly negotiated by the league and player’s union, make it unlikely the Dodgers will learn much, if anything, beyond Thursday’s statement or receive a copy of the arbitrator’s final report.

Dodgers starting pitcher Trevor Bauer delivers against the San Diego Padres in spring training in March 2021.

(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

Some factions of the fanbase will be hoping the Dodgers release Bauer as soon as possible (which they can do starting Friday morning, once Bauer is officially reinstated by the league).

The arbitrator did affirm that the pitcher violated the league’s sexual assault and domestic abuse policy. And even at 194 games, Bauer’s suspension is the longest ever administered in the policy’s seven-year history.

But until the Dodgers officially sever ties with Bauer, his return to the team is at least a slim possibility.

The financial impact of Bauer’s reduced suspension will also soon begin to set in.

Whether or not the Dodgers release him, Bauer will still be owed $22.5 million this season.

That’s less than the $32 million Bauer was originally supposed to make in 2023. But even that reduced amount pushes the Dodgers’ estimated luxury tax payroll for next season, according to Fangraphs Roster Resource database, to just under $233 million — the threshold at which the league begins assessing luxury tax penalties.

After paying tax penalties the past two years, and facing an inflated 50% tax rate in 2023 for being a repeat offender, the Dodgers had previously seemed likely to stay below the $233-million tax line.

They had freed up more than $100 million in salary from last year’s team. They had made only a string of modest one-year signings so far this offseason. And though their lack of spending had netted an underwhelming cast of additions for next year, the long-term benefits of potentially resetting the tax now would have positioned them to spend big again next offseason, when Shohei Ohtani is set to headline the free agent market.

Bauer’s reduced suspension could complicate any such plans.

Staying below the tax line could box the Dodgers out from making other needed additions to the roster in 2023 — such as adding more pitching depth or a left-handed bat before the end of the winter, or trading for a shortstop or bona fide ace before the midsummer deadline.

On the other hand, if they do cross the threshold to complete their 2023 squad, the resulting penalties might make them less willing to pay a luxury tax again the following season, leaving the possibility of adding another lucrative long-term contract a year from now increasingly tenuous.

Bauer has continued to deny allegations brought against him by three women, two of whom reportedly testified as witnesses in his hearing. After his suspension was reduced Thursday, he tweeted that he “can’t wait to see y’all out at a stadium soon!”

 

 

He might not find a warm reception at Dodger Stadium, though.

Although he was one of the team’s top pitchers in 2021 before his suspension, going 8-5 with a 2.59 ERA in 17 starts, he had also been a polarizing figure even before being accused of sexual assault.

Those allegations also turned the pitcher into a pariah in his own clubhouse. Two people with knowledge of the Dodgers’ clubhouse dynamics at the time, who were granted anonymity to speak freely about the situation, said a majority of players on that 2021 team did not want Bauer back under any circumstances.

No Dodgers players have publicly come to his defense since then, either.

It’s all part of what could make Thursday’s news reverberate around the club for a long time.

The Dodgers might only have two weeks to decide whether or not to keep Bauer this season. But, even after 18 months of uncertainty and speculation, it will likely take much longer for the full fallout of the situation to become clear.

Staff writer Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this report.

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