The most recent NL Cy Young recipient is heading to Los Angeles and is changing the formalities of the game’s financial system in the process.
Trevor Bauer heading to the Los Angeles Dodgers is not a major surprise. Following two years of competing on small-market teams in Cleveland and Cincinnati, Bauer is finally getting the chance to play for a city that better coordinates with the star’s personality. After all, he grew up in the city.
Let us also not forget the Dodgers’ most recent World Series championship. For Bauer, the choice was probably pretty easy — why not be a part of an organization that appears to do no wrong?
It is also not shocking that Bauer will now become the highest-yearly-paid player in baseball. It is reported that the 30-year-old right-hander will make $40 million during his first year under the deal, which will increase to $45 million his second year. With a payday like that, something he adamantly asked for during the offseason, there was no chance a small market team could match that type of proposal.
In that sense, Bauer’s deal is not changing baseball’s economic structure at all. The lack of a salary cap continues to show a major plight in the game, as small-market clubs are being left in the dust when racing to build a winning baseball team through offseason acquisitions and extensions.
Need proof? Just look at the difference between the Dodgers and the Pittsburgh Pirates’ payrolls for 2021. The Dodgers total will amass $240 million, while the Pirates sum will equal $30 million.
The details of the deal reveal where the shift in normality is happening. With baseball having fully guaranteed money as part of their player contracts, the trend for highly-valued free agents over the last decade has been accepting massive long-term deals that are worth $300 million or more.
For players like Mookie Betts of the Dodgers or Gerrit Cole of the Yankees — both making over $300 million and are competing for a consistently competitive ball club over the span of nine years or more — agreeing to a deal like this is a no-brainer. However, for guys like the Angels’ Mike Trout or the Rockies’ Nolan Arendado, who was just traded to the Cardinals last week, that type of deal is a risky endeavor. They are competing on teams who are far behind in the championship push, meaning that they are stuck playing for teams that don’t consistently win.
Sure, the money might be guaranteed. But the legacy is not, and it leaves players in an interesting conundrum where they cannot resist that caliber of guaranteed money without giving up control of their destiny as a player.
This is where Trevor Bauer’s contract changes the game. Somehow, the California-born pitcher — who owns a 3.90 ERA throughout his nine-year career — found a way to become the first player in recent memory to earn both control over where he plays and extensive wealth through a short-term deal.
Along with the $40 million yearly paycheck coming Bauer’s way in 2021, his three-year deal will also see opt-outs after the first two years. Meaning, if he wanted to, he could decide to test free agency and see if a better opportunity is on the table. Will he do that? Most likely not. Even if he outperforms his Cy Young year in 2020, holding onto an expectation of earning more than $45 million in a single season is unrealistic.
Yet, the fact that he most likely will not use that stipulation isn’t the point. It’s the fact that he has it, and it’s also about how he got it.
While baseball incorporates player-friendly contracts, that trend runs through a dynamic in which ownership is capable of stranding talent in unfavorable situations. Considering baseball’s relationship between management and players, the MLB is often placed in the middle when compared to other North American leagues.
The NFL holds a troublesome identity of highly favoring ownership over players, mainly because football contracts fail to implement fully guaranteed money through team contracts. On the other hand, the NBA is essentially a player-run league. Now more than ever, NBA stars are capable of paving a path towards reaching their desired roster — just look at Anthony Davis being traded to the Lakers or James Harden to the Nets for recent proof.
With the structure of Bauer’s deal, it shows that baseball may begin to trend toward the latter. And that shift shouldn’t be very surprising.
As a superstar in the league, why would you not want to hold your future in your own hands and get paid to do it? And why not earn that right through using contemporary media outlets to boldly promote your market value, just as Trevor Bauer did? The newest Dodger and his offseason shenanigans may be the blueprint for baseball’s modern negotiation process.
It is to be determined if the Dodgers will see a favorable result from this signing. The positive for Los Angeles is if Bauer does not meet expectations, it is only a short term commitment. However, with both Corey Seager and Clayton Kershaw hitting free agency after the 2021 season, along with a financial commitment in Betts that will cost more than $20 million, their potential of bringing back both fan favorites next offseason will become even more challenging.
If Bauer does prove he is worthy of baseball’s highest-paid salary though, the move by general manager Andrew Friedman will be yet another moment of brilliance that the executive can add to his already lengthy resume. Especially considering the acquisitions that the division-rival San Diego Padres made over the last few months to propel themselves into legitimate World Series contenders.
Nevertheless, the obvious winner here is Trevor Bauer. Not only is this proven based on the money he will be earning, but also the fact that he got exactly what he wanted — to play for a team that is in a position to help him win a ring.
For the first time in a long time, one of baseball’s most highly sought after talents received a contract that was fully on the player’s side rather than the executive’s. The MLB needs to be prepared for that exception to become the norm.