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The arbitration case for — and against — Trevor Bauer

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Pay one of your best players an extra $2 million, or go to court? The Indians chose the latter

Divisional Round - Cleveland Indians v Houston Astros - Game Two Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Things are about to get real petty.

Because the Cleveland Indians could not come to an agreement with Trevor Bauer over the star pitcher’s salary in 2019, the two sides will be heading to arbitration court to let a third-party judge make the decision in February. If you’re not familiar with the process, it’s a pretty bizarre one, and it’s one the Indians have been great at avoiding until recent years.

For a 20 year stretch, the Indians avoided going to court to argue a player’s worth for a year’s worth of salary. All those great players of the mid- to late-90s, and all those... other players in the early 2010s — none of them required an arbitration case. That streak was broken in February 2014 when the club went to arbitration with starting pitcher Josh Tomlin and reliever Vinnie Pestano. The Indians narrowly avoided having to go to trial with pitcher Justin Masterson too, but they inked him to a one-year, $9.7 million deal on February 18, 2014, just two days before his trial was set to begin.

Both Tomlin and Pestano lost their cases and were required to accept the Indians’ offers of $800,000 and $975,000, respectively. There were probably some mean words said, and I’m willing to bet the term “fly ball machine” was used more than once in Tomlin’s hearing.

More recently, the Indians went to court with Trevor Bauer just last season, when he was steadfast on a $6,420,969.69 salary for the year — completely random numbers, surely. He changed that figure to $6.525 million prior to arbitration court as a counter to the Indians’ $5.3 million offer. Bauer eventually won, and didn’t seem phased by the process:

Everyone told me it was going to be bad, but I was going into it with a different mindset than I think most players are. I was just really interested in the process. Hearing all the stories and hearing people say this or that about being in the room, I wanted to see what was going to go on, how the lawyers structured the cases, how it’s argued, how the arbitrators perceive it, all the different stuff.

The process that Bauer is referring to is one in which teams — who have probably spent years courting a player and will most likely try and get them to sign a long-term deal at some point — go into court with a mountain of evidence that said player is actually bad. It’s usually over a petty amount of money in the grand scheme of things, and in most cases it makes more sense to just meet somewhere in the middle and avoid the whole mess.

Well, for the second year in a row, the Indians will not be doing that with Bauer. Bauer wants $13 million following a Cy Young-caliber 2018 season, and the Indians front office only wants to give him $11 million. You’d think it would make sense to just give Trevor the extra $2 million, but that doesn’t seem to be happening. They were able to strike a deal with Francisco Lindor right before the deadline, but the same can’t be said for Bauer, who now awaits a February court date against his team.

That leads us to the present, and in a month it will lead us to a situation where the Indians will be trying — once again — to prove Trevor ain’t shit. Things are probably going to get weird. If you don’t believe me, just remember that the Red Sox allegedly brought in tape of Kris Bryant to prove that he was better than Mookie Betts, and thus be allowed to pay Betts the $3 million less they wanted to give him. Betts won the arbitration case and went on to the be the AL MVP.

Surely the Indians already dragged out every negative stat they could find about Trevor last offseason to save a couple million dollars — he had a high walk rate, gave up way too many home runs, and only pitched in 190 innings or more once. It still didn’t work, even though to that point Trevor never had a season with an ERA under 4.00. Now with a 2.21 ERA season under his belt, a career-high strikeout rate and career-low walk and home run rates, I don’t think stats are going to save the Indians $2 million dollars to buy that new full-sized Ecto-1 replica or whatever they want to do with the money.

In an effort to help understand the arbitration process better, here are some things Trevor and/or his agent are likely to being up in court, and how the Indians may counter.

Point: Trevor Bauer had a career year in 2018 and is just now entering his prime

At 27 years old and with ever-improving mechanics, now is the time to believe in Trevor Bauer’s ascension. Forget the bad seasons of the past, he showed with great consistency that he can be a great pitcher over a full season, and he probably would have been the American Leauge Cy Young if a freak comebacker didn’t attack his shin. Trevor had career bests in ERA (2.21), strikeout rate (30.8 percent), walk rate (8 percent), and he fooled opposing batters into chasing pitches out of the zone 31.4 percent of the time.

On top of all that, he stole Corey Kluber’s slider and turned it into one of his best pitches, and one of the best sliders in all of baseball.

Counterpoint: Trevor Bauer has been bad for most of his career

Call it whatever you want, but for six seasons, Trevor Bauer wasn’t a very good — or, at the very least, effective — pitcher. He never had an ERA under 4.00, and he gave up 91 home runs. Pitchers have one great year followed by misery all the time; without more evidence, there are plenty of reasons to believe Bauer will regress again. Steamer projections know that his 2.21 ERA season is a fluke, and it projects him back to a 3.56 ERA and more reasonable 27.1 percent strikeout rate.

Point: Trevor has lots of Twitter followers

Every day, 136,000 Twitter users are subjected to Trevor’s thoughts on the social media platform. He’s a bonafide mid-level star on Twitter. Whether he’s flipping off fans with a drone (whoops). harassing teenagers (hold on, don’t include that one), yelling at fans who are being big meanies to him (yikes), trying to gaslight anyone who calls out his shitty behavior (scratch that), or playfully shit-talking with Mike Clevinger, it’s always a good time, and it’s definitely a reason the Indians should be paying him more money.

Counterpoint: Trevor has a lot of Twitter followers

...and he probably shouldn’t.

Point: Trevor Bauer has an illustrious rap career

When he wasn’t slinging fastballs past opposing batters, Trevor Bauer would occasionally spend his time slinging sick, fire lyrics at his enemies. His rap group, Consummate 4Sight, which I promise I didn’t just make up, released highly praised singles such as “You Don’t Know Me”, and “Gutter to the Grail,” which was made for the now defunct Wahoo’s on the Mic Podcast. Trevor has since retired from the rap game to focus on his playing career, but with storied lyrics such as

I’m gold now ‘cuz I shine in all I do
Like a 24 karat ring for your boo

and

Gettin stupid throwin cheddar
Other teams are lookin clueless
Ain’t nobody do it better

it’s only a matter of time before he returns to his true calling.

Counterpoint: Trevor Bauer has an illustrious cap career

...and he probably shouldn’t.