This has the makings of the Indians’ best-case scenario and biggest nightmare all rolled into one.
Not surprisingly, it involves Trevor Bauer, arguably baseball’s best pitcher, inarguably baseball’s most complicated player, unquestionably baseball’s most glorious enigma.
Just ask opposing hitters. When they face Trevor they get tremors.
Bauer’s accelerating career arc is something to behold and, for the Indians, something to both cheer and fear. That’s because Bauer is getting better and better, faster and faster, just as his time in Cleveland is growing shorter and shorter.
For the Indians, it’s becoming a furious jet-propelled race to the inevitable, with two competing forces pulling history in opposite directions. For the Indians, the equation is equal parts exciting and worrisome:
Can they cash in on the best of Bauer before he leaves?
The clock is ticking, and Bauer is dealing.
He’s picked up this season right where he left off last season — which is bad news for opposing hitters. He appeared to be the Cy Young Award winner-in-waiting until a line drive fractured his fibula and cost him five or six late-season starts.
But he’s back, better than ever this year, and his stats through two starts are cartoonish.
In his two starts Bauer has faced 51 batters — and only one of them has gotten a hit.
He’s got more games started than hits allowed.
Opposing batters are hitting .024 against him (1-for-42). That hit was a triple by Minnesota’s Jorge Polanco on March 30. Since then Bauer has faced 40 batters without giving up a hit.
That includes all 28 hitless hitters he faced in his last start, against the White Sox, which for seven innings looked, walked and quacked like a no-hitter — and probably would have been had his pitch count not ballooned to 117.
“It wasn’t that tough of a decision, but I hated doing it,” said manager Terry Francona, who removed his serial out-getter from the game after seven innings. “It would have been negligence to him and the organization to send him back out. If you manage with your heart, you’ll get yourself in trouble.”
If any pitcher could have pushed the pitch-count envelope in the name of history it’s Bauer, whose bionic arm and frenetic devotion to and study of the art of winning the pitcher vs. batter chess match have turned himself into an indestructible pitching savant.
But even he realized April is far too early in the season to play hero ball, so he accepted his removal from the game graciously.
He does, after all, have a career to think about. It’s a career that will soon begin another chapter, as he announced during the offseason his intention to become a negotiation revolutionary who will challenge all previously held conventions in the free agent process.
Once he becomes eligible to auction himself off to the highest bidder, he intends to do so on his, not the ballclub’s, terms.
It’s going to work like this: Bauer will market himself as a year-to-year hired gun. No long-term contract. One year, and one year only. If you own a team, Bauer is going to offer you 32 of his starts, plus the postseason, in exchange for a huge pile of money. When the season is over, so is his commitment to your team. He said he intends to become a free agent every year, seeking only one-year deals every year.
This is either madness or genius. Bauer has been accused of both, so that doesn’t bother him.
If he follows through with it, this will be one of the boldest examples yet of an independent contractor dictating the terms of his employment to potential employers.
It’s a position that seems fraught with risk on Bauer’s side, but when has he ever appeared anything but bold and brash? He intends to bet on himself, year after year, in the belief that he’ll produce at a level that will increase the amount of his next one-year contract, etc., etc., etc. All the way to the Hall of Fame, or the Hall of What Were You Thinking?
Bauer will be betting on himself to be supremely productive and Supermanishly healthy. So far those seem like solid bets. The broken fibula was a freakish accident, not a breakdown or injury to his multimillion-dollar right arm.
He’s proudly and confidently swimming upstream in the river of baseball. He’ll leave here as a free agent after the 2020 season, unless the Indians decide to cut their losses by trading him before then.
What Bauer plans to do once he leaves promises to be great theater. He plans to do what no player has ever done because, well, he’s Trevor Bauer, and they’re not.
The best of Trevor Bauer is still to come, and unfortunately for the Indians it will probably come after he leaves Cleveland.
So enjoy him while you can.
If you can.
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