Trevor Bauer has been, without a doubt, the talk of the sports world in the last couple of days, as the New York Mets thought they were about to reach a deal with the controversial free agent pitcher on Friday when the Los Angeles Dodgers swooped in and secured his services for the next three seasons in a mammoth $102 million contract.
The structure of the contract is such that Bauer can opt out after the first and the second year.
The deal is clearly front-loaded, meaning that it will pay the right-hander a boatload of money in the first two seasons, and a modest salary in the third if he decides to opt in.
His 2021 salary will be $40 million, and his 2022 earnings will be a whopping $45 million.
The 2023 figure is a much lower $17 million, designed to lower the AAV (Average Annual Value) for the Dodgers to $34 million, for luxury tax purposes:
Despite getting $40 million in 2021 and $45 million in 2022, Bauer's CBT figure for the Dodgers will be $34 million per year, which is the AAV for the three-year contract.
— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) February 5, 2021
Bauer was, by far, the best free agent starter available.
He won the National League Cy Young award in 2020 with the Cincinnati Reds, finishing with a pristine 1.73 ERA in 73 innings.
He also had a Fielding Independent Pitching, or FIP, of 2.88.
However, it is fair to wonder: is Trevor Bauer overpaid?
The answer, in this case, is very simple: he is grossly overpaid.
That doesn’t mean he isn’t good, as his recent numbers (specifically, his performance in the last three seasons) suggest.
However, his status as an elite arm in MLB is very much in question.
3 reasons why Trevor Bauer is overpaid
1. He only has two truly great seasons out of seven
So far, Bauer has pitched seven full MLB seasons after a couple of years of only four starts back when he was a prospect.
He finished with an ERA under 3.00 in only two of those seasons; and in the other five, he ended up with earned run averages of more than 4.00.
Granted, the two sub-3.00 ERA seasons were downright elite: in 2018, he had a 2.21 ERA with the Cleveland Indians, and that came with a 2.44 FIP and an 11.34 K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings) in 175 1/3 frames.
He also was among the best hurlers in MLB in 2020, when he won the aforementioned Cy Young award.
Outside of that, he has been mediocre.
His career run-prevention metrics (3.90 ERA, 3.85 FIP, 3.96 xFIP) don’t look bad, but they are far from deserving of the league’s best salary.
2. He is the highest-paid player, above Trout, Betts, deGrom, and others
By now, you can see Bauer’s performance over his seven-year tenure in MLB, nine if you count the two cups of coffee he had in 2012 and 2013.
Well, no, it’s not enough.
For reference, here is the list of the top 10 highest paid baseball players in 2021, per Spotrac:
1) Trevor Bauer (LAD, SP): $40,000,000
2) Mike Trout (LAA, CF): $37,116,666
3) Jacob deGrom (NYM, SP): $36,000,000
4) Gerrit Cole (NYY, SP): $36,000,000
5) Nolan Arenado (STL, 3B): $35,000,000
6) Stephen Strasburg (WSH, SP): $35,000,000
7) Zack Greinke (HOU, SP): $35,000,000
8) Max Scherzer (WSH, SP): $34,503,480
9) Justin Verlander (HOU, SP): $33,000,000
10) Manny Machado (SD, SP): $32,000,000
However, it’s important to remember that this isn’t Bauer’s fault.
What Bauer earns isn’t his fault nor should be used against him, as it is his job and his agent’s to guarantee the largest possible sum of money.
This is the way the MLB free agent market works: each year, specific players hit the market and sign contracts that surpass previous highs.
3. He carries some serious off-field baggage
The third and final reason why Bauer can be considered overpaid is the off-field risk that he carries.
The contract could be a win for the Dodgers, but they might also easily regret it if Bauer causes any distractions.
He has done just that in the past.
Bauer has a reputation as a controversial figure around baseball, having been accused of harassing a woman on Twitter, among other things.
He also infamously threw a ball from the mound to center field when he wore the Cleveland Indians uniform, after manager Terry Francona pulled him out of a game during the 2019 season:
Trevor Bauer launches the ball over the center field wall before being taken out of the game pic.twitter.com/4Ozqbrxi01
— Baseball Quotes (@BaseballQuotes1) July 29, 2019
From his on-field antics to his constant need for attention on Twitter, it’s evident that Bauer represents a divisive figure among fans.
The Dodgers are a serious, winning franchise, fresh off taking home the World Series.
Teams don’t usually pay this much money to players that may cause off-the-field distractions.
All in all, Bauer’s contract with the Dodgers can make them stronger in the short-term, but there is no denying that he is overpaid.