Trevor Bauer may be a dynamite addition for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but there is a risk to playing with fireworks.
The gifted but grouchy righthander brings another powerful pitching arm to their arsenal when he reports to spring training this weekend. He also could destabilize the good chemistry that helped last year’s Dodgers win their first World Series championship since 1988.
As Adam Sandler once said, “Chemistry is good when you make love with it … Chemistry is bad when you make crack with it.”
Bauer cracked up during the heat of summer in 2019 when Cleveland manager Terry Francona removed him from a game at Kansas City. He stepped off the mound and heaved the baseball over the centerfield wall.
“Nice arm,” the Dodger apologist might think.
“Hot head,” the Dodger realist might think.
Bauer was appropriately contrite after that game.
“I’m an intense competitor and that fire is what drives me, and today it completely consumed me, took over,” he told reporters. “I just wanted to say I’m sorry for how I behaved. I’ll be better about it. It won’t happen again.”
He hasn’t tossed any more balls over the outfield wall. He has, however, tossed many more tantrums.
Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers president of baseball operations, tried to put as good a spin on the acquisition as Bauer applies to his curveball.
“The most important thing is every teammate we talked to, all the feedback we got from every organization he was with, was not only incredibly positive in terms of the type of teammate he is, but also in terms of the impact that he makes on each organization,” he said.
But that long-winded assertion glossed over the confrontations that Bauer has had with everybody from agent Scott Boras, to commissioner Rob Manfred, to the entire Houston Astros organization. He’s even taken his bully pulpit onto social media platforms.
He sparred on Twitter with a college student after she called him her “least favorite person in sports.” Bauer responded over the next three days with at least 17 tweets, posting a photograph he found from her timeline which showed her drinking before she turned the legal age of 21.
The woman said she felt so harassed by Bauer and his followers that she “cried daily.”
Bauer has also waged Twitter wars with the media. It got so bad with one New York sports reporter that she got “death threats and Holocaust jokes in my mentions for months after he went after me.”
Friedman also apparently didn’t ask for a reference from New York Yankee pitcher Gerrit Cole, who famously feuded with Bauer when they were teammates at UCLA. They still refuse to talk about or even look at each other.
When USA Today asked former Bruin assistant coach Rick Vanderhook if they might ever kiss and make up, he replied, “I would have to say the odds of the earth burning up are better than that.”
So yeah, the Dodgers are playing with fireworks.
Friedman also must not have consulted former Arizona catcher Miguel Montero, who said Bauer “rubbed people the wrong way” when asked why he was traded away to the Cleveland Indians. Bauer rubbed even harder on his way out the Diamondbacks’ door, releasing a rap song which attacked the club.
He endeared himself to few in Cleveland during the 2016 American League playoffs. He injured his pitching hand while playing with a drone and had to leave Game 3 of the ALCS after his stitches came apart during the first inning.
Bauer, an intensely cerebral athlete, said his detractors don’t take into account his “growth and maturation.”
“Is it possible that I was a bad teammate in 2012? Sure,” he said two seasons ago. “Is it also possible that I’m a good teammate in 2019? Sure.”
He is a master of his craft and as diligent a worker as has ever ascended a mound. Indians pitching coach Carl Willis once described him as “a pioneer,” noting that he used high-speed cameras, weighted-ball training, long toss, and precision pitch design before those techniques became popular.
Former UCSB ace Shane Bieber, who won last year’s American League Cy Young Award with the Indians, appreciated being his teammate.
“He thinks a little bit differently,” Bieber said. “The game is starting to change, and he’s ahead of the curve.”
But the Indians got their fill of Bauer’s different ways of thinking, trading him to the Cincinnati Reds midway through the 2019 season.
He won last year’s National League Cy Young Award, and then promptly signed a three-year contract with the Dodgers for $102 million.
Is he worth the price and aggravation? The Dodgers’ starting rotation is already stacked with the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, David Price, Julio Urias, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin.
This might be just a knee-jerk reaction to San Diego’s off-season acquisitions of pitching aces Blake Snell, Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove.
Dodger fans should be concerned about last week’s latest knee-jerk reaction.
When New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard tweeted a friendly jab at Bauer for not signing with his own club, the new Dodger blew it up into a full-out Twitter fit. He even researched Syndergaard’s Instagram account to point out the tiffs that he’s had with fans.
“Keep digging,” Syndergaard responded.
“See you at the bottom,” Bauer replied.
His new Dodger teammates just hope he doesn’t drag them there, too.