If the Mets ink Trevor Bauer to a massive deal in the coming days, it will be due in large part to the dream scenario that Bauer’s signing could help make a reality.
In the dream scenario, Bauer slots in behind Jacob deGrom in the rotation and is a true ace, giving the Mets a 1-2 punch to rival any they’ve had in their history. Meanwhile, the addition of Bauer makes the Mets one of the clear favorites to represent the National League in the World Series this season and for the length of Bauer’s deal.
In the nightmare scenario, the Mets get the non-ace version of Bauer, who had a 4.48 ERA (4.34 FIP) in 2019 and has had an ERA above 4.00 in five of his seven full big league seasons.
The two Bauer seasons where he has pitched to an ERA below 4.00 have been 2018 and 2020, which would seem to bode well when projecting how he’ll perform going forward.
But when you get in the weeds while analyzing Bauer’s brilliant 2020 campaign, you’ll see that his dominance came solely against the National League Central and American League Central, made up of mostly offensive-challenged teams.
The above does not erase what was a truly dominant season, where Bauer struck out a career-high 12.3 batters per 9 while posting a 1.73 ERA (2.88 FIP) and 0.79 WHIP in 73 innings. But the small sample size and level of the competition should give any interested team pause.
However, with the Mets interested enough in Bauer that they’ve made him an offer and are considering exceeding the luxury tax to sign him, it’s fair to believe that their internal projections on him show continued dominance.
A look at Bauer’s advanced stats from 2020 show that the spin on his fastball was the best in the game, while the spin on his curve was in the 92nd percentile. He was also elite when it came to xERA, xSLG, and xBA.
Even if we assume that what Bauer did in 2020 is sustainable, and that he’ll be an ace-level pitcher for at least the next few seasons, does it make sense for the Mets to sign him given what the ramifications throughout the roster could be?
That all depends…
It has been reported that Bauer is seeking to eclipse the record for average annual value given to a pitcher, which was the $36 million Gerrit Cole received annually from the Yankees as part of his nine-year deal last offseason.
Whether or not Bauer will get that remains to be seen, but for the Mets, the question would become what adding at least $30 million per year to the payroll over multiple years would mean for the roster in both the short-term and long-term.
When the Mets decided to not outbid the Toronto Blue Jays for George Springer, SNY’s Andy Martino reported that they simply chose the possibility of extending Conforto over handing a megadeal to Springer, due in part to Springer’s age.
In addition to Conforto, the Mets need to give an extension to Francisco Lindor that could be worth in the neighborhood of $300 million if they want to prevent him from hitting free agency after the season. And that should be at the very top of their priority list.
There is also the fact that the Mets still do not have a starting-caliber center fielder, have a third baseman (J.D. Davis) whom Sandy Alderson does not seem comfortable starting regularly, and could use more help in the bullpen.
Would the addition of Bauer be the final large expenditure of the offseason? If so, the Mets would be leaving themselves incomplete elsewhere.
And would signing Bauer preclude the Mets from extending either Conforto or Lindor? And what about Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman, who are also set for free agency after the season?
Perhaps Steve Cohen, if he’s comfortable exceeding the luxury tax in 2021 for Bauer, would be similarly comfortable handing out long-term deals to Lindor and Conforto that could result in the Mets being over the tax for the foreseeable future.
Still, if the Mets were in a position where they chose Conforto over Springer, can they be expected to give massive deals to Bauer, Lindor, and Conforto all in the span of a few months?
Even if the Mets are comfortable with that many high-priced deals on their books, it’s fair to wonder about the sustainability of that kind of strategy.
We’ll mention here what we’ve mentioned a few times lately: Fans should not worry about the money doled out by their favorite team, nor should they be in favor of any team that treats the luxury tax like a hard salary cap.
But the fact remains that exceeding the luxury tax comes with penalties, including ones that can hurt a team’s position in the MLB Draft.
Getting back to Bauer specifically, there are many potential risks and ramifications that would come with the Mets signing him. And that’s without taking into account his off-field behavior that is being vetted by the team.
But if the Mets wind up with Bauer and he excels, all of the performance concerns and potential roster crunching mentioned above might just be noise.