Chavez Ravine is 31 miles and a 45-ish minute drive from Hart High School, a long stretch of I-5 connecting two of Southern California’s staples, M
Chavez Ravine is 31 miles and a 45-ish minute drive from Hart High School, a long stretch of I-5 connecting two of Southern California’s staples, Magic Mountain and Dodger Stadium, which once again is the home of the reigning World Series champions.
It’s now a symbolic journey for the newest and best-paid Dodger, who began his baseball career as an aggrieved outsider and now has the hardware and the direct-deposit receipts to tout that he prevailed over the losers and haters.
Just one question remains: How will Trevor Bauer handle life as the conqueror?
Bauer’s free-agent journey ended Friday with his announcement, via myriad social-media channels, that he was headed to the Dodgers, jilting the Mets and accepting an offer that reportedly will pay him $102 million over three years, including single-season records of $40 million in 2021 and $45 million in 2022.
Should he match his pitching excellence from a shortened 2020 season, during which he ran away with the National League Cy Young Award, he can opt out after ’21 or ‘22 and start all over again.
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Opting out would be rooted almost entirely in finances, though Bauer surely wouldn’t mind another dopamine-filled winter of attention for his burgeoning media holding and unavoidable and occasionally toxic social media presence.
It really has been quite a ride, and you’ve probably been living under a rock if you’re a baseball fan unfamiliar with Bauer’s narrative: A relatively unathletic teen going to school at an athlete factory. Mocked for bringing a javelin-looking device to practice, for unorthodox long-toss methods. Graduating high school early to bury that chapter of his life, only to be met with further side eye at UCLA, where he alienated himself from teammates, including the future No. 1 overall pick.
Now, Bauer will make a few bucks more a year than Gerrit Cole, whose nine-year, $324 million deal signed with the Yankees in December 2019 set the previous per annum standard for pitchers. You could staff several major league staffs with pitchers who followed Bauer’s path to suburban Seattle and the Driveline training facility, where Bauer began lapping the field in the areas of increasing velocity, pitch design and usage.
The outcast has won. So now what?
From the outside, grievance has been the fuel that drove Bauer, from his teen days laying down hip-hop tracks in the shadows of Santa Clarita Valley tract homes to his major league debut, when he shook off veteran catcher Miguel Montero, earning a swift rebuke and an eventual trade from the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Whatever scars he incurred on his come-up seemed to manifest in his Twitter presence, which could range from strident and iconoclastic to vengeful and harmful. One more than one occasion, Bauer has not so subtly turned his now 421,000 followers onto those daring to challenge him, including an ugly sequence with a woman in college that prompted the Cleveland Indians to urge him to dial it back.
It seemed clear then that Bauer did not grasp life on the other end of the power dynamic – or did and chose to ignore it.
That side of Bauer made for an interesting online dynamic Friday as the right-hander toggled between the Mets and Dodgers, with a segment of fandom from both clubs playing a game of, “I don’t want him/No, please, you take him.”
Now, he will walk into a Dodgers clubhouse that’s extremely tight after eight years of playoff appearances finally culminated in a World Series title won amid a pandemic.
He’ll be bunched into a rotation whose beacon is Clayton Kershaw, the future Hall of Famer and three-time Cy Young winner whose three-year, $93 million extension now pales to Bauer’s – and is due to become a free agent after this season.
Lest we forget, Walker Buehler has emerged over his four seasons as a postseason savior, and would be next homegrown hero in line for a massive pact like the $215 million extension Kershaw signed seven years ago.
David Price has a Cy Young and two World Series rings. Mookie Betts has two rings and an MVP and emerged as the pulsing heart of this Dodgers club before and after signing a $365 million contract.
Corey Seager was the NLCS and World Series MVP and due to become one of five top-flight shortstops on the market next winter.
This isn’t Cleveland or Cincinnati anymore.
That’s not to suggest that Bauer will be met with any sort of cold shoulder or overt jealousy. Players root for their peers to get that bag, the better to increase their own paydays when the time comes. Yet while championships and awards are nice, money remains the ultimate sign of respect, and suddenly the Dodgers will be faced with taking care of many more of their own, all after going big to bring in a pitcher with a career 3.90 ERA.
We’re guessing Bauer will largely win over his teammates, what with a work ethic the great Kershaw will appreciate and an ability to spot areas of maximization in pitch selection and design that pitchers like the still-developing Buehler might be wise to heed.
As for the fan base? It’s L.A., where the natives are not easily impressed and will still be basking in possibly consecutive titles for the Lakers and the long-sought status as defending champs for the Dodgers.
Anything less than the standard Bauer set in his final year in Cincy – NL-bests in ERA (1.73) and WHIP (0.80) – will be met with some level of disappointment.
Positioned as he is in a major market, with a storied franchise, it also will be better for baseball and its fans if Bauer can find it within him to move past the role of aggrieved disruptor.
He won – made obvious by the pitching revolution he helped spur and the many, many zeroes on his forthcoming paychecks.
Indeed, he’s a long way figuratively, if not geographically, from where it all began. We’ll find out soon if Bauer is ready to move on from his aggressive stance as the outsider.