The Mets have had an eventful off-season under new owner Steve Cohen, adding one dynamic star, several other solid players and subtracting one disgraced general manager. But their hopes of strutting into spring training as the undisputed winner of the winter will not happen after their final big prize slipped away.
Trevor Bauer, the best free-agent pitcher on the free agent market, turned down an offer from the Mets to sign with his hometown Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday in a deal that will give the Dodgers, the defending World Series champion, one of the deepest starting pitcher rotations in baseball.
Bauer, a 30-year-old right-hander, confirmed his decision to join the Dodgers in an elaborately produced video posted to his YouTube channel. The video, set to dramatic music and teasing New York fans by briefly flashing a Mets jersey with name stitched across it, ended with a shot of Bauer in a Dodgers uniform saying, “This season is about adding to our legacy, and I can’t wait, Dodger fans.”
Multiple news reports said the deal was for three years and $102 million guaranteed, and that it included an option for Bauer to opt out after each year. He will make $40 million in 2021 and $45 million in 2022, according to ESPN.
Bauer had narrowed his search to a handful of teams this winter but by Thursday only two remained, according to Bauer’s agent, Rachel Luba. Those were believed to be the Mets and Dodgers, and expectations among Mets fans soared. But like George Springer, the free-agent outfielder who signed with the Toronto Blue Jays last month instead of the Mets, Bauer decided to go elsewhere.
Bauer, the National League Cy Young Award Winner in 2020, will join a Dodgers pitching rotation that already includes Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Tony Gonsolin, David Price (who opted out of last season because of coronavirus concerns), Julio Urias and Trevor May.
The Dodgers led baseball in team earned run average over the last two years (including relief pitchers), including a 3.02 team E.R.A. last season. Los Angeles has led the National League in E.R.A. for four years running.
Bauer went 5-4 with a 1.73 E.R.A. for the Cincinnati Reds in last year’s pandemic-shortened season. He was the only pitcher in M.L.B. with two shutouts.
Using a scientific approach that relies heavily on data analysis and high-tech instruments that measure every aspect of his windup and delivery, Bauer is a student of pitching — constantly analyzing and adjusting virtually everything he does on the mound.
It is not a new passion: In high school in California, Bauer played chess with his physics teacher at lunch; whenever their games ended quickly, Bauer and the teacher would discuss the physics of baseball. As a major leaguer, he been open about his willingness to share his evolving knowledge with teammates and opponents alike.
In nine seasons over all, including five in Cleveland, Bauer compiled a 75-64 with a 3.90 E.R.A. At the same time, he gained a reputation as one of the baseball’s most outspoken players, one who would banter with strangers on Twitter but also vigorously defend the game against critics who bemoan the growing focus on strikeouts, home runs and walks.
At times, his outspoken nature made headlines of its own, on topics ranging from his views on President Obama and President Trump, his rejection of the idea that human activity can influence climate change, and the “liberal slanted” news media.
Two years ago, he engaged in contentious interaction with a female college student that resulted in several of Bauer’s followers attacking the woman online. Bauer later issued a statement saying he would “wield the responsibility of my platform” with more care in the future. He is one of the few players to employ a woman as his agent, Rachel Luba, and has contributed to women’s charities, including one that supports female software coders.
Even without landing Bauer, the Mets off-season was quite productive. In January they made a trade to acquire Francisco Lindor, one of the best shortstops in baseball, from Cleveland. They also picked up the starting pitcher Carlos Carasco in that deal.
The Mets also signed James McCann, a top catcher with the Chicago White Sox, to a four-year contract worth approximately $40 million, and added the free-agent relief pitchers Trevor May and Aaron Loup to provide bullpen depth. Most recently, they traded for Joey Lucchesi, a left-handed pitcher from the San Diego Padres.
Bauer would have been a valuable addition to the rotation, slotting in next to Jacob deGrom for a one-two punch that would have been the envy of many other teams. Instead, the Mets may have to face him in the postseason.