Phillies Nation

2020 Offseason

Why the Phillies should steer clear of Trevor Bauer

Free agency officially kicked off this past Sunday. The Phillies have dabbled at the top of the free-agent starting pitching market twice in the last three years. They signed Jake Arrieta to a three-year, $75 million deal, which turned out to be a disaster. Zack Wheeler looked like an ace in the first season of his five-year, $118 million deal but it’s too early to make any conclusions about the deal.

Trevor Bauer will most likely win the 2020 National League Cy Young Award. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire)

Former Diamondbacks, Indians and Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer is the clear-cut top pitcher on the free-agent market this year. He led the National League in ERA (1.74), WHIP (0.79), opponents batting average (.159) and hits per nine innings (5.06) this season and will most likely win the league’s 2020 Cy Young Award.

In previous years, the Phillies would probably be one of the frontrunners to sign Bauer. With a fixed budget and many holes to fill, however, pursuing a starting pitcher of Bauer’s caliber may be a pipedream.

Even if the Phillies were working with “stupid money” this offseason, it would probably be wise to pass on Bauer.

When signing any player to a large contract, teams have to consider the man in both the clubhouse and the community for the next three to five years. Bauer has a polarizing reputation around the league and it’s not because he’s unafraid to call out Commissioner Rob Manfred and troll the Astros with trashcan cleats.

Bauer repeatedly harassed a woman on social media in 2019. He was reluctant to listen to his catcher while in Arizona. He also had to leave in the first inning of Game 3 of the 2016 ALCS after an injury he suffered while repairing his drone became impossible to pitch with.

This isn’t to say Bauer is a sexist or a bad teammate. It’s up to the teams who are interested in signing him to make do with the prior intel they have on Bauer. Conversely, former teammates have praised Bauer in the past. His media presence and willingness to promote his sport could be seen as a positive.

Personality concerns are not the main reason why the Phillies should take themselves out of the running for Bauer. The Phillies probably don’t need him.

Yes, the most exciting Phillies team on paper was headlined by the four aces: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. They could have the best rotation in baseball with Nola, Wheeler, Bauer, Zach Eflin and Spencer Howard. None of that matters if the Phillies are unable to properly rebuild the second-worst bullpen in MLB history and replace either J.T. Realmuto or Didi Gregorius’ bat in the lineup.

This isn’t a justification of ownership’s hesitancy to spend this offseason. The reality is that John Middleton admitted that their free-agent spending will be tied to projected 2021 revenues, which Andy MacPhail said were “not pretty,” when combined with a revenue shortfall in 2020.

“Can you tell me what the governor [of Pennsylvania] and the mayor of Philadelphia are going to allow us to have next year in the way of fans? Because if you do, you know something that I don’t,” Middleton said in a press conference following the announcement that Matt Klentak stepped down as GM.

With the resources they have and the holes that need to be filled, it would be unwise to allocate a large chunk of money to a pitcher who is expected to receive a payday fit for an ace. Nola and Wheeler were fantastic in 2020, with both starting pitchers finishing with a team-leading 2.0 fWAR. Eflin took a step forward in 2020. He experienced the third-highest year-to-year increase in strikeout rate (18.3% to 28.6%) among pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched in 2020 and should be counted on as a No. 3 starter.

If the Phillies want to sign a top-tier free agent this season, they should either re-sign Realmuto or go after former Astros outfielder George Springer. Among the Phillies’ long list of needs are an elite bat, a starting catcher and an improvement from their current center field platoon of Roman Quinn and Adam Haseley. One of either Realmuto or Springer would fill two of those three needs.

While the Phillies don’t have a need at the top of the rotation, they do have a vacancy at the back end. Arrieta is a free agent and the team could move on from Vince Velasquez, who is in his final year of arbitration eligibility. The Phillies should fill that vacancy with either a low-cost option in free agency or a prospect that is on the verge of graduating to the big leagues full-time. Adonis Medina would be the most likely internal option.

If anything, the Phillies should actively try to make their team less top-heavy. That means taking a dive into the deep end of the free-agent pool, which is expected to be flooded with mid-tier free agents who were cut from their respective teams for budgetary purposes.

It would behoove the Phillies to build up pitching depth as opposed to allocating resources for a top starting pitcher. Pitcher injuries skyrocketed at the beginning of the 2020 season due to the short spring training and teams should prepare for the same to happen in 2021. Arms that are normally built up to throw 200 innings only threw around 70-80 innings. A lack of equilibrium in ’21 and beyond as well the fact that pitchers need to build back up to their normal workload could be a dangerous trend for pitchers, particularly starters, for years to come.

All things considered, throwing big money at pitchers is a tremendous risk. Bauer only has three seasons under his belt in which he has had an ERA under four. He’s a talented pitcher but there’s no guarantee he could replicate anything close to the success he had in the shortened 60-game season. Not only will he command top dollar, but he will also cost a draft pick. His agent Rachel Luba announced on Twitter Wednesday that Bauer rejected the Cincinnati Reds’ qualifying offer. Signing him will cost the Phillies a second-round pick.

For that reason — as well as the many other reasons outlined above — the Phillies should pass on Bauer.


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