As far as the starting rotation goes, the Braves could use help right now. Unfortunately, the trade deadline was nearly three weeks ago, and the lone addition of Tommy Milone has only hurt the team. Following Cole Hamels’ first start on Wednesday, Atlanta’s rotation boasts an unsightly ERA of 6.01 (third-worst in baseball and worst in the National League).
Because of that, help should be on the way this offseason, and there’s no better time to sign 29-year-old Trevor Bauer, who’ll be a free agent after the 2020 campaign.
For starters, Bauer is peaking at just the right time in his walk-year with the Reds. The righty is carrying some impressive numbers through nine starts (58 IP), maintaining 12.9 K/9 and 2.3BB/9 (both career-best rates if he can keep it up), and is already a 2.3 WAR pitcher in the year 2020.
His last outing, a start he won on September 14th against the Pirates, Bauer struck out twelve and allowed just four hits in 6.1 innings, chipping away even more at what’s currently MLB’s third-best ERA (1.71). With more emphasis on his four-seamer and cutter in 2020 — two offerings that makeup over 66% of his pitches so far — Bauer is punching out opposing batters more frequently than ever and generating an abundance of weak contact.
However, perhaps the most intriguing part of a potential Bauer signing is the fact that it could possibly be just a one-year fling, which if he’s healthy, allows the Braves to benefit from his excellence without becoming trapped in an awful, long-term contract.
Here’s what Bauer said last August regarding his intentions on free agency this coming offseason…
“I do intend to sign one-year contracts my entire career. I’m not against signing with the same team by any means, but the reasoning behind that is I want to be on a contender.”
Some may disagree, especially given how poorly Cole Hamels and his one-year, $18 million deal has aged since the winter, but one-year pacts are the way to go for teams like the Braves (mid-market clubs that run rather tight payrolls year after year).
Bauer is in the middle of a one-year contract in Cincinnati, earning $17.5 million for the 2020 season, and if you asked a Reds fan, they’d probably say Bauer has been worth much more than that this year as he leads the team’s starting rotation. Even better, the Reds won’t have to worry that the contract suddenly turns upside down due to an injury or regression. The team reaps the rewards of his elite pitching this season, and then both parties move on before it gets sour. If you ask me, that’s a win-win situation.
And when looking at the Braves’ 2021 rotation, the team really doesn’t need to sign a pitcher long-term, given the sheer amount of team-control it possesses. Here’s every Braves’ pitcher that has made a start in 2020, ordered by games started:
- Max Fried — controlled thru 2024
- Kyle Wright — controlled thru 2025
- Touki Toussaint — controlled thru 2025
- Sean Newcomb — controlled thru 2023
- Josh Tomlin — FA in 2021
- Ian Anderson — controlled thru 2026
- Huascar Ynoa — controlled thru 2025
- Mike Soroka — controlled thru 2024
- Tommy Milone — FA in 2021
- Mike Foltynewicz — controlled thru 2021
As you can see, in terms of guys that have made any type of contributions in 2020, the Braves will lose just three starters (Erlin, Tomlin, Milone), and there’s really only one among that trio that I believe is worth bringing back (and that’s if Tomlin doesn’t hang it up, given he’ll be 36-years-old all of next season).
It’s anyone’s guess whether or not the team will try and re-sign Hamels or Felix Hernandez, but even if the Braves were to bring both veterans back for 2021, adding Bauer shouldn’t be a problem. In fact, handing Hamels another one-year deal to go along with Bauer seems like the way to go…
Potential 2021 Starting Rotation
- Mike Soroka (RHP)
- Trevor Bauer (RHP)
- Max Fried (LHP)
- Cole Hamels (LHP)
You could swap Bauer and Fried if you care about alternating righties and lefties. However, any way you slice it, the Braves would have at least three arms capable of headlining the rotation in Soroka, Bauer, and Fried. Add in Hamels’ all-world changeup and Ian Anderson’s rise to stardom, and there’s potential for a legit five-headed monster.
It probably won’t happen, as these types of things rarely do. Heck, once Bauer starts getting offers, he may even change his mind about playing on one-year deals for the rest of his career. Financially, it’s not the smartest strategy in the world, considering an injury could leave him unemployed with nothing guaranteed for the future. However, if Bauer is still interested in such a setup contract-wise this offseason, the Braves should be among the highest bidders.