The last time Trevor Bauer took the mound, he seemed to have reached the apex of his pitching career. By the summer of 2021, the talent that made him a first-round draft pick and the curiosities that unlocked cutting-edge training regiments had finally converged. He was a reigning Cy Young Award winner who stood among his profession’s top earners and best performers, a legitimate ace on one of the sport’s most celebrated pitching staffs. Then everything changed.
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And now it’s fair to wonder whether Bauer’s major league career might be finished.
The Los Angeles Dodgers, after deliberating much longer than many anticipated, have ensured Bauer’s career will not continue with their organization. They designated Bauer for assignment on Friday, two weeks after his suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic-violence policy was trimmed from 324 to 194 games. Bauer is expected to clear waivers and officially become a free agent next Friday. The Dodgers will be on the hook for $22.5 million of Bauer’s 2023 salary but will save $720,000 if another team signs him for the minimum. And now the predominant question is: Will any team do it?
The industry’s perspective, if it can be summarized with one sentence: Unlikely, but not impossible.
ESPN surveyed about two-dozen agents and front-office executives over the past month in an effort to gauge Bauer’s potential free agent market, and the answers didn’t deviate much beyond that. The most common response landed closely with what a rival general manager plainly stated in a text message on the night of Dec. 22, moments after an independent arbitrator ruled that Bauer — having already served 144 games in 2022 — would be docked pay for the first 50 games of the 2023 season but would be reinstated immediately.
“I don’t expect anyone will sign him,” the GM wrote.
Bauer’s punishment was ultimately reduced by 40%, but the arbiter who spent parts of eight months reviewing findings and hearing testimony nonetheless ruled that he deserved what still amounted to the longest suspension under the domestic violence, sexual assault and child-abuse policy that was jointly agreed to by MLB and the MLB Players’ Association in August of 2015.
Bauer, 31, is the 16th player suspended under that policy and the first with more than one publicly known accuser. He has three — the San Diego woman who triggered MLB’s investigation, alleging Bauer essentially took consensual rough sex too far, and two other women who made similar allegations to the Washington Post.
“Nobody’s touching that guy,” an agent told ESPN recently. “Not a chance.”
But the possibility was raised by a handful of the agents and executives whom ESPN spoke with in recent weeks, before and after the reduction was announced. Bauer will still be only 32 next month, with a healthy arm and a distinguished track record. And soon, barring the unlikely scenario of the Dodgers finding a trade partner, Bauer can be had for the major-league-minimum salary — at a time when free-agent contracts are through the roof, and dependable, upper-echelon starting pitchers are more rare than ever.
“I think there will be teams that will at least be interested,” another agent said.
“Some teams will just take the arm,” a front-office executive added, “and they’ll deal with the blowback later.”
The Houston Astros of Jeff Luhnow took a similar approach, acquiring prominent closer Roberto Osuna from the Toronto Blue Jays in July of 2018, less than three months after he was arrested for alleged assault against the mother of his child. The Cleveland Browns traded for star quarterback Deshaun Watson in March of 2022, and subsequently signed him to a record contract, even though more than two dozen women have filed lawsuits against him for sexual misconduct. Talent often transcends morality, and professional sports is littered with examples.
Bauer, though, would bring a unique challenge to a prospective new employer, according to one rival executive. As he described, it isn’t just the stain on an organization’s reputation or the backlash from its fans or the general negativity that would surround it — it’s that Bauer hasn’t shown an ounce of contrition throughout this process. In fact, he has taken the opposite approach, fighting every allegation vehemently.
“If you sign someone with that type of baggage,” one agent noted, “you have to walk him through the reclamation tour. And I don’t think he’s coachable for that.”
In that regard, Bauer’s public response to the arbiter’s ruling was telling — just a short tweet, comprising 18 words and two emojis.
The 2023 season Vlog is going to be 🔥🔥! Can’t wait to see y’all out at a stadium soon!
— Trevor Bauer (トレバー・バウアー) (@BauerOutage) December 23, 2022
It was an encapsulation of the way Bauer has approached the sexual assault allegations that have been levied against him; a reminder that he does not care to, and does not feel obligated to, account for his missteps or apologize to those who were hurt by his actions. It also hinted at what’s to come — an uncertain major league future for a man who does not believe it should be in question.
Suspensions of Bauer’s length are exceedingly rare in the 56-year history of the MLBPA, which gave players an avenue to fight the lifetime bans that were frequently handed out in earlier decades.
Jenrry Mejia received a permanent ban in 2016 for multiple positive PED tests, though he was reinstated two years later. Dwight Gooden and Steve Howe received year-plus suspensions for drug-and-alcohol-related issues. Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Marlon Byrd, Francis Martes, Cody Stanley and Pascual Perez all received 162-game suspensions for their ties to PEDs. Sam Dyson also received a 162-game suspension for violating the domestic violence policy in March of 2021. Bauer has since topped it, becoming one of just three active players in the last half century — along with Mejia and Gooden — to be handed suspensions that exceeded a full season.
That’s the history Bauer is dealing with.
That’s the history prospective suitors would have to reckon with.
It seems unlikely that anyone would take on the risk, but in the words of one GM:
“All it takes is one team.”