When the details of last night’s three team swap surfaced, it was assumed the “young pitcher” Arizona offered was Pat Corbin. After coming to Arizona in the Dan Haren trade, Corbin posted strong minor league numbers and provided league-average innings in his first go-round as a big league starter. Corbin is a better-than-serviceable arm with loads of control, limited as his ceiling might be. A suitable piece for what the Snakes looked to receive in their part of the deal.
But then Trevor Bauer became the trade chip. It was Trevor Bauer that Cleveland wanted to part with Didi Gregorius and it was Trevor Bauer they received. Trevor Bauer is younger than Corbin — younger than all but seven players to pitch in the Majors in 2012 — and a former first round draft pick. A first round draft pick in 2011, third overall. After gifting Bauer a $4.45M bonus and rushing him to the big leagues in less than a year, the Diamondbacks are now out of the Trevor Bauer business. After minimal exposure, they decided the realities of Trevor Bauer outweighed the idea of Trevor Bauer and shipped him out.
The idea of Trevor Bauer is an enticing one. Not just the potential of Trevor Bauer to turn his three plus pitches into swinging strikes at the big league level, the idea of Trevor Bauer as the merit-based antihero of internet baseball fandom. He is brash and unconventional and doesn’t look like the big-armed robots throwing 200 innings in 20 starts for every major college program in the country. His delivery is defiantly modeled after that of Tim Lincecum, as if to suggest the idiom “one in a million” is just a state of mind.
His cherished long toss routine gives the uninitiated something to gawk at during pregame warm-ups. He is, as Grant Brisbee describes him, a “mechanics wonk” who posts slow motion videos of his delivery and cryptically named pitches like “the reverse slider” on Youtube for all to see. He decries the conventional wisdom which implores pitchers to keep the ball down, insisting he can work up in the zone and still be effective.
This is the idea of Trevor Bauer. The consciously eccentric savant who turns established knowledge on its ear just to say he could. The reality was much different.
The results at the big league level are as worrisome as they are irrelevant. A 21-year-old struggling not only with his command but with his stuff, watching as precious miles per hour drop from his fastball and his other pitches spin flatly through the zone. The inability to make the adjustments requested of his coaching staff, adjustments tried and proven and gleaned over many years and many brash hurlers breaking down and accepting the General Order of Things.
A recent ESPN article by former baseball GM Jim Bowden ($) paints Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers as quaintly old school. In the piece, Towers gently laments the current state of the affairs among execs, noting that so many of his younger contemporaries keep so many irons in the fire at the same time, constantly shaping and re-shaping potential trade requests.
This characterization of Towers doesn’t exactly suggest a man with the mindset to freely allow a young player with so much potential to squander his abilities long tossing and ignoring the plaintive cries of his battle-hardened coaches and instructors. Towers has likely been down this road before, watching (or perceiving) a pitcher resist instruction to his own determent. Should Trevor Bauer fail to catch on at the big league level, he wouldn’t be the first pitcher unable to get out of his own way before it was too late.
Rather than hope Trevor Bauer goes the way of the Roy Halladay School of Re-Education, Towers moved his coveted young prospect for another sought-after player. As Dave Cameron and others point out, another season of Bauer struggling while remaining at odds and evens with the coaches would only lower his trade value. Towers swallowed hard and made a tough choice – though one made a little easier knowing Bauer was not his draft pick.
Not having stood in the draft war room and fought and debated the merits and costs of Trevor Bauer relative to the other names on the 2011 draft board is not an insignificant part of the decision to trade him so quickly. Given a little more GM turnover, I think we would see this type of trade more.
Instead we have the astute Clevelands grabbing a player who many believe can still become an ace. A pitcher with three great pitches which, during his brief big league cameo and the resulting fallout, were largely not at his disposal during the latter half of 2012. All the arm training and shake weights and look-at-me pregame ritual couldn’t save Bauer from a groin injury, widely blamed for Bauer’s inability to be Trevor Bauer through much of 2012. Can recovery from that injury save his velocity, command, and status as a Can’t Miss Prospect?
The idea of a power pitcher without elite command who, according to Keith Law, “was 92-95 mph and touched 97 in college, but in the majors this year he was more 90-91 and touched 94″ isn’t a very appealing one at all. If the Diamondbacks thought those changes were permanent, then good on them for cutting their losses and dumping a potential headache they don’t need.
If that velocity comes back with added health, then the idea of adding a top prospect with ace stuff who is also outspoken and fun and willing to embrace fans and challenge the staid order of things is a terrific idea indeed, one from which Cleveland stands to benefit from for a long, long time. It comes back to the idea of risk versus reward and the idea of a change of scenery being all an exciting player needs to realize his potential. There are more outcomes for Trevor Bauer than “ace” or “bust” but the potential for either is what makes him, and the decisions to trade him, so damn interesting. A matter of ideals, I suppose.