Why a Trevor Bauer-KC Royals deal won’t happen

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

The KC Royals need to add a seasoned starting pitcher. Could Trevor Bauer fit the bill?

My Kings of Kauffman colleague David Scharff, a pretty astute baseball observer, recently wrote that the KC Royals need a veteran starting pitcher to help mentor their increasingly young  rotation.

A James Shields clone immediately came to my mind. Shields was the main target of the Royals’ intensely scrutinized late 2012 trade that brought him to Kansas City from Tampa Bay (together with future star closer Wade Davis, to whom little attention was paid at the time). The Royals wanted and needed then exactly what Scharff wrote they need now—a seasoned veteran capable of leading and teaching a young corps of talented up-and-coming hurlers.

An acquaintance read Scharff’s piece and asked me if Trevor Bauer might fit the bill. I found it an intriguing question, so I thought about it.

Bauer, who’ll join the free agent ranks soon after the World Series ends, is indisputably one of the best starting pitchers in the game today. He won 41 games for Cleveland during the Indians’ three-year domination of the American League Central from 2016-18 (including a 17-9 campaign in 2017) and, after an off year with Cincinnati in 2019, reclaimed his top form in 2020.

Bauer went 5-4 this season, a record deceiving in its inability to reflect just how good he was: 1.73 ERA, 276 ERA+, 0.795 WHIP. He struck out 12 in a game three times and 10 once, and averaged over 12 strikeouts and a shade over two walks per nine innings. And he threw two shutouts, an accomplishment rarely achieved by anyone these days, even in a full 162-game season.

Bauer, a wonderfully talented, wonderfully competitive hurler who’ll make any team he signs with immediately better, isn’t likely to consider, much less select, the KC Royals. He wants to contend for championships now, and the Royals are at least a season or two away from being able to accommodate that desire.

Savvy veteran that he is, Bauer knows he’ll probably command a contract worth far more than his $17.5 million (not prorated) 2020 base. He’s prominently featured in every Cy Young Award discussion and a favorite in many. Bauer is a hot commodity, but one probably too expensive for the Royals’ typically penny-pinching financial taste.

Closely related to the high cost it will take to secure Bauer’s services is his penchant for one-year deals. He’s been consistently vocal about it, although he recently hinted he’d consider a multi-year arrangement. The Royals have burned themselves before on multi-year mega-deals, and bringing Bauer in on even a one-year contract when they aren’t likely to contend next year would be unwise because Bauer might well grow restless and decide to move on.

And a multi-year contract would, in all likelihood, be cost-prohibitive. The budget simply wouldn’t take a long-term Bauer deal…especially if the club wants to sign the proven bat it needs and give Salvador Perez the deal he deserves when he becomes a free agent after next season. And, depending on how he fares, the club may also want to re-sign Danny Duffy after his contract expires following the 2021 campaign.

Then there’s social media. Bauer is at times as outspoken and controversial as he is talented, a veritable open (and occasionally controversial) book on social media platforms. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it doesn’t seem to be something the KC Royals traditionally covet. Just peruse Twitter accounts of Royals players, for example, and you’ll rarely see anything approaching Bauer’s willingness to share. The Royals are generally more reticent, and it’s hard to believe the club doesn’t like that.

Not to be ignored, too, is Bauer’s well-chronicled heave of a baseball from the Kauffman Stadium mound over its center field wall after the Royals scored their seventh run against him in a 2019 game:

Much to his credit, Bauer apologized after the game. But the unforgettable optics certainly weren’t good.

So, in response to my acquaintance’s question about Bauer, I say it would be great to add another 15, 16, or 17 wins to the Royals next season, and maybe even to every campaign for a few years. Think of the difference such an infusion of veteran talent could mean to a team edging ever closer to winning again. Bauer might not ride a Royal winner immediately, but he could be a big part of a Royal resurgence and add that to his legacy.

Whether Bauer and the Royals would mesh might be another matter.

But he’s probably not going to come knocking on the Kauffman Stadium door anyway.

Next. Tough arbitration decisions lie ahead. dark

It’s kind of nice to think about Trevor Bauer pitching for the KC Royals. But for so many reasons, it just isn’t going to happen.