Whether he revolutionized free agency or not, Trevor Bauer did wind up with record salaries the next two seasons under the terms of his unique three-year deal with the Dodgers. The 2019 NL Cy Young Award winner make $40 million this year and $45 million in 2022, assuming that he picks up his first player option. His subsequent $17 million player option for 2023 technically makes the deal worth $102 million and reduces his average salary to $34 million for luxury tax purposes. However, unless Bauer gets hurt or suffers a major decline, this is essentially a two-year, $85 million contract.
Bauer chose between the Dodgers and the Mets at the end. Both would have been very good situations for him from a fantasy perspective. The Dodgers are, of course, the defending champions. They boast the game’s best supporting cast, they’re strong defensively and they play in a pitcher’s park. New York offered an even more favorable ballpark, and while the Mets have had issues defensively or late, they’ve added big upgrades there with Francisco Lindor at shortstop and James McCann behind the plate and are threatening another by talking with Jackie Bradley Jr. for center field. Those who already selected Bauer in early drafts should have been thrilled to see him wind up with either team.
As a free agent, Bauer placed seventh among starting pitchers in our initial 2021 fantasy rankings. He’s up to sixth now, passing teammate Clayton Kershaw. His ERA projection isn’t remarkable; after all, his career mark is 3.90 and he isn’t again going to benefit from the ridiculously easy Central schedule he faced last year. However, when it comes to quantity, he’s probably the best bet in baseball; Bauer has never dealt with an arm problem as a big leaguer and he’s eager to accept as much work as he can get. While the Dodgers will probably go easier on him than many other teams would, he’ll still work deeper into games than most, giving him a better chance at winning 18-20 games than pretty much anyone else in the league.
Bauer’s arrival does seem like bad news for the less established pitchers on the Dodgers staff. The rotation spot that Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May were expected to vie for is gone at the moment. Gonsolin, who could have been the NL Rookie of the Year had he opened last season in the rotation, finished 2019 with a 2.31 ERA in eight starts and one relief appearance May had a 2.57 ERA in 10 starts and two relief appearances. Both were well worth drafting in mixed leagues even with cloudy situations. Now, though, it’ll take an injury in spring training to save either from opening up in middle relief or, worse, Triple-A. Gonsolin seems like an end-game flier at best. May should be left undrafted in 10- and12-team leagues.
Julio Urias shouldn’t have anything to worry about this spring, but Bauer’s arrival could make him the new Kenta Maeda; the Dodgers could choose to slide him to the bullpen in August in order to limit his innings and prepare him for the postseason. That’s not a disaster for his fantasy value; it already seemed like a given that he’d have to take a break at some point this year, since his career high for innings is 128 in 2016 and he hasn’t topped 100 in the four years since. Still, Urias has tumbled from 24th to 29th in our SP rankings.
Perhaps the Dodgers could free Gonsolin, May or top prospect Josiah Gray by making a trade, but it’s not like they have any pressing needs. Maybe they lose out on free agent Justin Turner now, but they have a breakthrough candidate in Edwin Rios able to take over at third. They also have plenty of flexibility there with May Muncy able to play three infield spots, Chris Taylor available to step in just about anywhere and Gavin Lux hopefully ready to step in at second base whenever necessary. They could always add another late-game reliever, but that seems more like a summer concern. Besides, Urias and May could be about as strong late in postseason games as anyone the team could acquire.
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