Sometimes, you get played in the game of “Free Agent Roulette.”
If I may paraphrase Tom Hagen in Godfather II, when he is discussing the fact that Frank Pentangeli is in the custody of the Feds and ready to talk because he blames Michael Corleone for his near murder, “Bauer, he played this one beautifully.”
Rachel Luba, Bauer’s agent and a rising star in the ranks who can go toe-to-toe with the “big boys,” wanted to get to the point where the competition was down to two teams. This way they can play one off of the other.
It was like a “perfect storm” for Luba and her client. The two teams left were the defending World Champion Dodgers who have not been hesitant to spend and the Mets, who have a new owner who is looking to spend and make a splash. The only problem I have is they went public with the fact that it was the Mets and Dodgers who were the only teams left in the competition. The team that misses out gets unfairly criticized and the Mets don’t deserve that.
There were reports saying the Mets were the favorites to land Bauer, but it was becoming apparent that he wanted to build his “brand” in Southern California, rather than New York. Thursday night, a report from USA Today’s Bob Nightengale on Twitter said the Mets had an agreement with Bauer. It was almost immediately refuted by other reputable sources. (Nightengale doesn’t deserve the vitriol that he’s receiving from Met fans. He probably got some bad information from a source that he won’t trust again)
Reportedly, there was a 12 pm, eastern time deadline for Bauer to make his decision, reportedly there was not, but you got the feeling, the longer this dragged out after Thursday night’s news, the more chance he was going to play in his native Southern California.
The Mets tried hard to get this done, Reportedly, they offered a three year deal for $115 million, with opt outs after each of the first two years. In the Mets’ offer, Bauer would get $40 million in 2021 and 2022 with $35 million left in the third year.
The Dodgers front loaded their three year, $102 million dollar offer. Bauer gets $40 million in 2021, $45 million in 2022, and has an opt out in both of those seasons. In the third year, Bauer is scheduled to make a mere $17 million. There’s no way he doesn’t exercise his opt out after the second year, so it’s essentially a two year, $85 million dollar deal.
Teams have been played before. It happened to the Yankees in 1992 when they were pursuing free agent pitcher Greg Maddux. GM Gene Michael thought they had a deal and Maddux decided to sign with the Braves. The Yankees went on to sign Jimmy Key who was not the Hall of Famer that Maddux became, but ended up a pretty good sign.
The Mets have an ace in Jacob deGrom, arguably the best pitcher in the sport. How would a record setting contract sit with deGrom. (IMO: Bauer is not even in deGrom’s company) Publicly, the Mets’ ace would take the high road, but we’re dealing with human emotions here.
The repercussions from a Bauer signing would be significant. You’ve got Michael Conforto and Noah Syndergaard looking at free agency after the season. If Conforto puts together another MVP type season or even a better one than 2020, can you let him walk? You hope Syndergaard can return to form in 2021. What if he does or exceeds that? Assuming Bauer’s contract is on the payroll, the Mets would likely have to make some payroll decisions that may not sit well with their fans.
Free agency is a risk with a high reward. There are no sure things. Think about how many free agent signings turn out to be busts.
You want some fodder for the “glass half empty” argument. Bauer has pitched in the AL Central and NL Central divisions, where the bulk of the teams haven’t exactly been the “World Series contenders,” recently.
In 2020, Bauer did not face the division rival Cardinals. He didn’t face the Minnesota Twins or his former team, the Indians in inter league play. His overall numbers are great, but again, in his Cy Young season, he made only 11 regular season starts and one post season start, where he was brilliant.
Now he’s going to a very competitive NL West. Do you know that Bauer is 0-4 with a 5.06 ERA in his career against the Padres? You think that stat will be all over the place when he’s set to make his first start against San Diego?
A couple of bad starts, even in laid back Los Angeles, and Bauer’s twitter account could end up in the same recycle bin as Steve Cohen’s.
Tune into Karpin’s Korner, Sunday night at 8 pm, eastern time on 365sportscast.com. Newsday Yankees’ beat reporter Erik Boland will join me as will Rick Cerrone, Editor-In-Chief of the classic baseball publication Baseball Digest. Come hang out at Karpin’s Korner. Sunday at 8 pm on 365sportscast.com.