Trevor Bauer started two World Series games for the Cleveland Indians in 2016 and finished sixth in American League Cy Young Award voting in 2018. And yet, right or wrong, the lasting image of his time with the Indians may prove to be him firing a ball over the center field wall as manager Terry Francona made his way out to the mound last Sunday to remove him from a game against the Kansas City Royals.
Bauer, an All-Star just a season ago, never got a chance to redeem himself after the viral moment. Even though he showed up to Progressive Field Wednesday evening to watch the Indians play, it was as a fan. Tuesday night, the Indians completed a three-team trade that sent him across the state to the Cincinnati Reds.
Francona guided the Boston Red Sox to two World Series titles in eight seasons as their skipper. He’s been the Indians manager since 2013, and the Tribe have posted a winning record in every year he’s been at the helm. The Indians aren’t a major market team, but they’re viewed around baseball as perhaps the best run organization in the league. And they were concerned perhaps less with the incident itself - Bauer did appear to be more mad at himself than anything - and instead what they feared it may represent moving forward.
"I had concerns what it could do to our team, and I voiced those concerns," Francona told the collective media of the Bauer trade. "I would never, ever go tell [the front office] something, but they are good enough to always allow me my opinion, and you just try to do the best you can, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little bit worried."
In Bauer’s defense, the bottom of the fifth inning last Sunday was an extremely frustrating inning. Center fielder Oscar Mercado lost a ball in the sunlight that turned into an automatic double. Bauer tried to glove a ball with the bases loaded and flip it home, but he wasn’t able to and the runners were safe all around. The Royals had a couple seeing-eye singles. The 28-year-old righty didn’t get shelled in the fifth inning by the lowly Royals, he got nickeled and dimed.
As Francona made his way out to the mound last Sunday to escort Bauer out of the game (there wasn’t a ball to take from him), cameras caught him asking Bauer “What the **** is wrong with you?” Bauer appeared to apologize immediately to Francona, and issued an apology to all parties involved after the game.
But it appears that the damage was already done. Bauer - the definition of outspoken, for better or worse - appears to have worn out his welcome in Cleveland.
"Sometimes it's emotional, and sometimes it's not quite as emotional,'' Francona said. "That's just being honest.''
A year after posting a 2.21 ERA, 2.44 FIP and 5.8 fWAR across 175.1 innings, Bauer has regressed to a 3.79 ERA and 4.16 FIP over 156.2 innings in 2019. He says he hasn’t been healthy for portions of the year and laughed off Francona’s comments, saying that “none of that really matters” now that the Indians no longer employ him.
A case could be made that it behooves a medium market team like the Indians to move someone like Bauer more than a year before free-agency so they recoup value, rather than likely losing him after the 2020 season. They also acquired former All-Star outfielder Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes, a 24-year-old outfielder with 27 home runs for the San Diego Padres in 2019.
However, the Indians haven’t won a World Series since 1948, and the clock is ticking on their window as All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor gets into his later arbitration years. While the Houston Astros added six-time All-Star Zack Greinke to a rotation that already included Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, the Indians traded away someone who has demonstrated front-line potential. They traded him to a non-contending team in the National League, so it won’t directly affect them in the postseason, but such a move makes you think that last Sunday was the straw that broke the camel’s back.