What makes the Dodgers scary is what makes Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers scary:
They are out there. Lurking. The competition not sure when they will pounce.
The defending champs have set themselves up — payroll flexibility, minor league depth, a good reputation as a place to play, a winning culture/history — as to be viable in any market.
It is why the organization that went from the Brooklyn Dodgers to the Los Angeles Dodgers has now morphed into the Watch The Dodgers. As in — Question: Where do you think so-and-so free agent is going? Answer: Watch the Dodgers.
Trevor Bauer and DJ LeMahieu come up quite often in the “Watch the Dodgers” subset. So how exactly would that work?
If Bauer goes for the longest contract worth the most money, then the Dodgers are probably out. But if Bauer truly would consider a short-term deal as he has said he would, especially if he would do a one-year pact …
The Dodgers pivoted last offseason from trying to sign Gerrit Cole (believed to be in the eight-year, $300 million range with deferrals) to acquiring Mookie Betts and eventually signing him for 12 years at $365 million. Cole agreed with the Yankees for nine years at $324 million — a major league record $36 million a season on average.
This would be a good point to mention that, at best, Bauer and Cole have an uneasy relationship dating to their time as UCLA teammates and Cole going first in the 2011 draft and Bauer third. How appealing would it be for Bauer to return to his Southern California roots on a one-year, $37 million contract, jumping him over Cole as the average value champ, albeit for just the one season?
Would Bauer do this? Would the Dodgers?
They would have to be willing to climb over the luxury-tax threshold for 2021; a harder sell amid a pandemic for a team that in good times annually draws the most spectators. But it would be just the one year, which would not tie up considerable future payroll with young stars Corey Seager due to be a free agent after next season, Cody Bellinger after 2022 and Walker Buehler after 2024.
Would any single move upgrade the Dodgers’ repeat chances more? Bauer would join Buehler and Clayton Kershaw atop the rotation with David Price and talented youngsters Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May and Julio Urias behind them. Think of the depth and overflow to the bullpen in 2021.
The pursuit of Cole and the acquisition/signing of Betts accentuated that the Dodgers will extend long term when they see the combination of prime age/low maintenance. MLB needs more of Bauer’s ability to build a brand and reach a larger audience. But the tactics he employs to do so on social media are at times confrontational and audacious on the mound.
A one-year contract — or perhaps one year with a second-year mutual option — would allow the Dodgers to see what this looks like in their world while benefiting from a pitcher who has done more to mainstream modern ways of self-improvement for pitchers as anyone. Bauer put himself into the laboratory and emerged as the 2020 NL Cy Young winner. But that was in a shortened season and marked just the second time (along with 2018) in which Bauer had an elite season.
So the one-year pact also would give the Dodgers a quick out if Bauer’s performance is more roller coaster than persistent dominance. Bauer has indicated a fearlessness for going a year at a time, in part because be believes his training will allow him to stay healthy for a sustained period and potentially maximize his income annually.
In theory, another Southern California team that needs Bauer more, the Angels, could do this as well. Owner Arte Moreno has written big checks previously, though the Angels do need multiple pitchers. The Mets under Steve Cohen and Blue Jays also could sign Bauer short or long term. But executives and pitching coaches who have worked with Bauer said they thought — if it was close — he would gravitate to an organization that he believed would not only tolerate, but embrace and enhance his pitching training and thoughts. The state-of-the-art Dodgers fit that, offering another way they have set themselves up for success.
LeMahieu’s non-Yankee suitors look a lot like those of Bauer — Mets, Blue Jays and “watch the Dodgers.”
After the 2017 season, the Dodgers seriously pursued Giancarlo Stanton, whose first choice was to return home to Southern California. But the Dodgers wanted greater salary relief from the 10 years at $295 million remaining than the Yankees did. The Marlins were looking to get rid of as much of what Stanton was owed as possible. It is one of the most important sliding doors moments in modern baseball. If the Dodgers land Stanton, do they not add Betts, for example? If the Yankees don’t get Stanton, do they have a different roster/financial flexibility that, among other items, makes re-signing LeMahieu easier?
Key questions: Are the Yankees waiting to find out what price they have to beat because they are re-signing LeMahieu regardless of cost, or do the Yanks — with the intention of going under the $210 million luxury-tax threshold — have a limit? If it is the latter, could the Dodgers step in? Has LeMahieu grown disenchanted/disrespected enough with the process that he will leave a place he likes? If so, the Dodgers offer the professional, winning environment that made him so enjoy his Yankee time.
The Dodgers have managed their payroll so well that Betts is their only guaranteed money beyond 2022, and his deferrals mean he costs just $25.55 million annually toward the payroll for luxury-tax purposes. Obviously, the Dodgers will have other commitments coming plus what pause is given since LeMahieu turns 33 in July? Still. LeMahieu can fit within the Dodger salary structure and play third if Justin Turner is not re-signed, or second with Gavin Lux becoming a super-utility type, or move around as he did with the Yankees.
Think of a lineup that begins Betts/LeMahieu. Or think of a rotation that begins Bauer/Buehler/Kershaw. All is possible with the Watch the Dodgers.
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