Last week, reports surfaced that the Yankees were “high” on Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer. From a distance, their interest makes the utmost sense. With Luis Severino’s status still in question, New York could certainly use a frontline starting pitcher. If Cleveland makes Bauer available, there may be no stronger rotation option on the trade market than the 28-year-old right-hander.
In some ways, a potential marriage between the Yankees and Bauer is a perfect fit. He fixes an area of need, and his forward-thinking approach to pitching meshes with the team’s top-flight player development machine. Yet Bauer’s obvious flaws make it easy to question whether he is really the kind of player the Yankees should want to import into their clubhouse.
Let’s start from the top, with Bauer’s onfield performance. Since 2018, Bauer has established himself as an elite pitcher in every way. He’s totaled 320 innings over that span and fanned 391 batters, good for a rate of 11 strikeouts per nine. He posted a 2.89 ERA in the process, good for a 158 ERA+.
Bauer ranks seventh among all pitchers in fWAR across the past two seasons, and fifth in terms of RA9-WAR. His K/9 rate sits seventh among qualified starters, while his ERA- comes in at third. However you splice it, in terms of pure production, Bauer rates towards the very top the league.
He’s done so with a deep, varied repertoire, one he’s consciously refined through careful study. Bauer throws at least six distinct pitches, per Statcast. He leads with his four-seam fastball, which averages 94.6 mph and possesses a 79th-percentile spin rate. His top secondary is a sharp curveball that’s yielded just a .180 wOBA to opposing hitters this season. He also uses his slider, changeup, and cutter roughly 10-percent of the time, to go along with a sinker at about four-percent.
That stacked arsenal surely helps Bauer to turn over lineups and to keep hitters off balance. Take a glance at that arsenal in action, here as he whiffs Eugenio Suarez with a fastball:
Or here, when he beats Socrates Brito with a curve:
Moreover, that leading four-seam/curve combo would be right at home on the Yankees. New York has seen plenty of success with pitchers whose main method of attack involves a hard, high-spin heater countered by a knee-buckling breaking ball, whether it’s the likes of Luis Severino, Domingo German, and James Paxton in the rotation, or Dellin Betances, Aroldis Chapman, and Adam Ottavino in the bullpen.
No other pitcher on the market can match Bauer’s potential impact on the Yankees’ staff. FanGraphs depth charts projections peg him for 1.8 WAR the rest of the way, and that figure doesn’t touch what he could do for a team like the Yankees in the playoffs. That mark easily clears the projected marks of Madison Bumgarner and Marcus Stroman. Factor in that the acquisition of Bauer would take chunks of innings away from the likes of Luis Cessa, David Hale, and Nestor Cortes Jr., and it’s obvious he can move the needle in a way few other trade targets can.
Given that Bauer cannot hit free agency until after the 2020 season, he should fetch a decent haul. Plus, since Cleveland stands to contend both this year and next, they would likely prefer a package of ready-made players. The Yankees are in a position to offer young players or prospects that could contribute quickly, like Clint Frazier or Jonathan Loaisiga.
If we examine just Bauer’s abilities on the field, as well the way he would affect the Yankees on paper, he clearly appears as an extremely strong trade candidate. Of course, moves are not made in a vacuum, and trading for players involves more than trading for a set of statistics. It involves trading for a person as well.
As a person, it’s hard to find a player that’s a worse fit for the Yankees. Teammates have indicated that Bauer is difficult to work with, with one player quoted in an SI profile as saying that Cleveland’s clubhouse is “24 plus Trevor”. He’s proven shaky with the media at times, and has used his Twitter account for, shall we say, interesting purposes, such as climate change deinal. Far more disturbingly, he once sicced a social media mob on a woman and engaged in online harassment.
Some fans may be able to overlook that kind of abhorrent behavior because of what he brings on the field. There are no rules governing how to be a fan, and it’s an understandable choice to simply root for whatever players don your preferred set of pinstriped pajamas.
The Yankees, however, are not fans. They are an organization that has cultivated a thriving and open clubhouse, one welcome to all kinds of players from all walks of life. They are an organization that has often prioritized makeup, most recently spending heaps of draft capital on less toosly players that come with glowing reports of excellent makeup.
Honing one’s craft and keeping an open mind when it comes to ways to improve, as Bauer has done, can constitute good makeup. Harassing others and consistently failing to get along with the people around you cannot. While Bauer would fit right in with a Yankee club that thrives in the player development department, he flies in the face of the team’s prized standard of professionalism. His tendency to clash with other players could jeopardize the status of what is by all accounts a fantastic clubhouse dynamic.
After the Yankees groused about Manny Machado’s purported character issues during the half-hearted courtship of the star infielder, it would seem curious to see them then turn to someone like Bauer at the trade deadline (as an aside, if you opposed signing Machado for personality reasons, but support trading for Bauer, I encourage you to ask yourself why). In totality, bringing in Bauer would be a risk, and perhaps a needless one, given the Yankees’ current grip on first in the AL East. New York may be tantalized if they just glance at Bauer’s Baseball Reference page, but there’s far more to consider than just baseball when it comes to trading for Bauer.