Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Trevor Bauer Trade; what happened?

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Bauer is traded before the ink is dry on his contract. Why? Photo Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images via bleacherreport.com

It isn’t every day that you see a guy like Trevor Bauer traded.  Why?

  • He was traded less than a year after being drafted in the upper 1st round (3rd overall).
  • He was traded despite signing a Major League deal and getting a $3.4M bonus.  The bonus money isn’t exactly a sunk cost here; we’re not talking about a guy who is 5 years into his minor league career.
  • He was traded despite being the first player from his draft class to matriculate to the majors, appearing at the end of 2012’s season, getting 4 starts in September.
  • He was traded after a minor league season in which (among AA and AAA) he compiled a 12-2 record with a 2.42 ERA with 157 K’s in 130 1/3 innings, including time spent in the hitter-bonanza PCL.  As a 21-year old.
  • He was traded after being named Arizona’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
  • He was traded despite in-arguably being considered an “Ace” pitching prospect.

So, why was Arizona so quick to give up on this guy?   It isn’t like they moved Bauer to get a game-changing set of prospects or impact major league players; the return seems to be a lighter-hitting shortstop (Didi Gregorius), an inconsistent reliever (Tony Sipp) and a first base prospect who is immediately blocked on the Arizona roster by other, better players (Lars Anderson).

The answer seems to be a combination of several factors, none of them flattering to Bauer and his make-up/personality:

  1. Bauer’s refusal to alter his unique warm-up methods.  We saw this coming; he issued a “warning” to drafting teams that he did not want his extreme long-toss warmup method changed or questioned.
  2. Bauer’s refusal to allow his catcher to call the game.  In his four September games, he repeatedly shook off catcher Miguel Montero, a seven year veteran catcher.  And that didn’t seem to go over well with either catcher or coach when asked about it at the time.
  3. Bauer’s approach during his MLB time; he reportedly pitches “backwards,” setting up hitters with off-speed stuff before using his fastball as his  outpitch.  But this approach is counter to most recommended approaches for attacking hitters, especially bottom-of-the-order hitters.  He reportedly nibbled too much, didn’t go after hitters, walked a number of 7-8-9 guys, and then (in a common refrain) refused to alter his approach.
  4. Bauer’s tantrum when removed from the PCL championship game, showing up AAA manager Billy Butler (an accomplished MLB veteran) in the process.
  5. Bauer’s maturity level being questioned in the media by the team’s owner.
  6. Bauer’s clubhouse demeaner reportedly being, shall we say, “less than optimal” for getting along well with others.  I can’t find links off-hand, but I read opinions that describe Bauer variously as being “an Ass,” being cocky, being “prickly,”  being a know-it-all, and already dividing the MLB clubhouse despite his relative short time there.

Ok, that’s a long list of issues, some of them very serious when it comes to a professional ball-player.

Its easy to say, “well the kid is only 21″ and excusing any/all these issues.  But there is something to be said about a 21 year old kid arriving in a Major League ball club, with a manager of the pedigree and career accomplishments of Kirk Gibson and an on-the-field staff of old-school pros (including Don BaylorMatt Williams and pitching coach Charles Nagy), and telling them that he knows better than they do.  Perhaps its that simple; perhaps the management had already essentially given up on Bauer’s ability to be coached, to receive instruction, to even receive recommondations, and GM Josh Towers pulled the plug.

But he’d have to be just incredibly hard headed for the team to have already arrived at the point of no return.  We’re not talking about some random 15th rounder.  We’re talking about a game-changing, significant investment they made in this kid.

Bauer, for his part, clearly has confidence in his approach, studied and crafted his motion based on biomechanical information he had at hand (his major at UCLA?  Biomedical Engineering), and believes that his preparation and his motion are what has enabled him to garner a high 1st round pick, what allowed him to zoom through the minors, and are what will enable him to be a successful professional.  I can understand his viewpoint; why should I change what has gotten me where I am now?   In some ways this reminds me of the whole “old-school/new-school” arguments that we have related to evaluating baseball players; new-school sabrematricians clearly have a dim view of their old-school/veteran sports writer counter parts and often have no issue writing that such-and-such a veteran sportswriter is flat out “an idiot.”  Well; is Bauer the “new school” approach to crafting pitching mechanics and his Arizona coaches are the “old school” approach to teaching pitching?

In some ways, we as fans forget that a clubhouse is rather similar to an office environment; you have “good” and “bad” workers, you have super stars and people just playing out the string.  Imagine if you had a 21-yr old hot-shot rookie just out of school who came in and told you (a seasoned veteran of some accomplish) that he knew how to do his job better than you?  I would imagine that the kid would seem pretty grating in the process.  Is this what happened in Arizona?

Should we be putting any blame on the Organization?  This isn’t the first time we’ve heard “issues” revolving around Arizona, their staff and management, and a player.  In addition to the Bauer situation, the continual Justin Upton trade rumors, persisting on now for a second off-season.  If the guy (Upton) is so good, why has the team been trying to move him for 2 years?  They benched him in 2012 and he got into a public spat with the owner this past season.  Is this a player issue or is there something in the organization that keeps rearing its head?  The situation reminds me somewhat of the Aaron Crow draft situation, where Jim Bowden drafted a kid who apparently had made it known he wanted no part of the organization.  If Arizona knew going in that Bauer was going to be difficult, why draft him at all?

8 Responses to 'Trevor Bauer Trade; what happened?'

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  1. Todd – good article, I have thought it over too, without any real conclusions, although I think that I side with the player. Here are some random comments:

    I had also read somewhere that Bauer’s velo was down a few ticks too, possibly related to a groin injury he suffered earlier in the year.

    Arizona does seem like a rigid organization. Those repeated Justin Upton rumors are puzzling, since it can only decrease his trade value, plus alienate the player. I don’t know if it all comes from Towers, but that owner (or president) makes some unusual comments too. It is almost like they are consumed by a ‘machismo’ culture. They seem like a very black and white kind of place.

    It also seems pretty clear that Bauer is an opinionated young man, but can you blame him? He deals with college coaches who’ll destroy a kid’s arm to win a few games; pro teams who also look to maximize short term results over a player’s interest; pitching coaches that try to fit everyone into the same square peg. He probably is the only one who is interested in his long term prospects. I don’t blame the kid for sticking to what got him here, and as far as his super small sample size results, isn’t that true for virtually 99% of young pitchers, that it takes them a while to figure out how to pitch at the top level?

    I dunno, it seemed like Arizona decided that they wanted him gone for non-baseball reasons, and did it.

    Wally

    17 Dec 12 at 12:51 pm

  2. I think you can make arguments pro-Team (if you believe all the rumors I typed up) or pro-Player (if you believe that the combination of on-field management and GM is acting in an antagonistic way). I’m not sure where I land right now: while I believe a lot of the anti-player comments being made in this situation (there’s just too many things that have popped up to not think where there’s smoke, there’s fire), I also do believe this is a case of a player standing up for what he believes and trying to (as you say) keep his approach from being overy manipulated.

    We all know that teams try to change pitchers motions, and that not all teams have the same approach. It has to be frustrating for a kid to have thrown one way his whole life and then suddenly be asked to make changes by some low-A pitching coach.

    Specific to Bauer; how in the hell does UCLA have the #1 and #3 overall picks (him and Gerrett Cole), both being near-MLB ready starters, and NOT at least reach the CWS that year? They got beat in the regionals, didn’t even make the super-regionals. So odd.

    Todd Boss

    17 Dec 12 at 1:08 pm

  3. To make another Jim Bowden comparison, it sounds like the Indians made a classic Jimbo-type “buy low” trade here, difference being that it could pay off spectacularly. As far as Bauer being a jerk or a cancer…well, winning is the cure for a lot of those ills. The kid has placed himself in a position where he had better be damn good or he’s going to out on his rear end in relatively short order.

    bdrube

    17 Dec 12 at 1:36 pm

  4. The Jim Bowden “character reclamation project!” Elijah Dukes. Lastings Milledge. Dmitri Young. Jose Guillen. Ahh… thanks for the memories! :-)

    Todd Boss

    17 Dec 12 at 1:44 pm

  5. Can’t it be both that the player is a jerk and the team is too rigid? Sure, Bauer may be a jerk, but I think teams have a broad tolerance for players, especially SPs, who are jerk but perform well. Clemens, whatever you think of his PED use notwithstanding, is definitely an A-hole. It just seems very hard to believe that he was a good teammate beyond his on-field contributions. So, the more that I think about it, I don’t think that Arizona feels that he will ultimately be very successful.

    As an aside, the rigidity that I mentioned about Arizona’s thinking?: for a while I worried that Rizzo had the same outlook (and isn’t it interesting that he came out of Arizona). That phase where he was cutting guys because he ‘didn’t like his aura’ or ‘I got tired of watching him pitch’, plus what seemed like a pure dumping of Hanrahan following some awful relief appearances had me worried. But it does seem like he matured from that, and ironically I think the Hanrahan trade may have been part of the reason. I think that he felt like he gave up on him too soon.

    Wally

    17 Dec 12 at 1:57 pm

  6. It absolutely can be both. But Bauer didn’t have enough time to get enough on-the-field accomplishments to “allow him” to be an a-hole in the clubhouse right? Clemens could be difficult because he had all the Cy Young’s. Bauer has 4 MLB starts.

    I’m trying to think of an example of a player in any sport who was so bad in the clubhouse that teams literally ignored his talents and just stayed away. Perhaps Barry Bonds when his San Francisco contract expired? He was 42, had just come off a season where he had a 169 OPS+, and I’m positive he could have contributed as a DH somewhere. But not one offer came his way. Maybe Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (nee Chris Jackson), who seemed to earn his way out of the NBA by virtue of the whole National Anthem controversy? Terrell Owens and/or Chad Ocho Cinco Johnson right now (probably not since they’re both too old to be effective in the NFL)?

    Rizzo certainly has learned to keep his mouth shut. I supported the Hanrahan deal; despite his numbers in Pittsburgh I never felt he was going to do that here. Classic “needs a change of scenery” guy.

    Todd Boss

    17 Dec 12 at 3:03 pm

  7. Minor point: The bonus money you mention was, indeed, a ‘sunk cost’ — it didn’t matter how far into his career he was/wasn’t, so long as the team had already made the payment/obligation. Setting all the other arguments/issues aside for a moment, if the team felt that Trevor Bauer wasn’t worth they money they were obligated to pay him in the future — without regard regard to money paid in the past — then they made the right call.

    Eugene in Oregon

    18 Dec 12 at 10:16 am

  8. I know the economic definition of “sunk cost” means that the moment the money is out the door, its out the door. But the economics of baseball don’t entirely work like Economics 101. The opportunity cost of losing a first round drafted player in the modern baseball landscape is huge. Trading Bauer so soon is pretty severe indictment of the management’s decision to take him in the first place. In this case, it isn’t so much about the amount of the money paid, its the fact that there are severe bonus limits in baseball now, and Arizona had to purposely pay other players less (and thus acquiring lesser players) so they could pay Bauer more, meaning that their entire draft was affected by this decision. By virtue of this move, I believe management there has admitted a complete failure in terms of player evaluation and their 2012 draft. For the money and draft position they got Bauer in, there were literally dozens of other high 1st round potential talents they could have taken. That’s the real problem here.

    When Bowden drafted but did not sign Aaron Crow, most people just remember now that we took Drew Storen with the supplemental pick the following year. As it turned out, the team wasn’t really “hurt” by the loss of a year’s development time for a top end starting pitcher. But that lost opportunity cost is still there.

    Todd Boss

    18 Dec 12 at 11:01 am

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