Just more than 10 years ago, the Philadelphia Phillies were the “mystery team” that made a surprise free-agent signing of star left-handed pitcher Cliff Lee.
Ever since, the term has been in baseball lingo around the peak of hot stove talks, and that is no different during the 2021 offseason. On Thursday, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman used the term in a report about 2020 National League Cy Young Award winner and current free-agent, Trevor Bauer.
Heyman said the “Bauer derby” could shape up as a battle between the New York Mets and defending World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers, “unless mystery teams emerge.”
While the Phillies have not been linked to Bauer or considered to having a real chance to sign the nine-year veteran, don’t rule them out just yet for being one of those “mystery teams” possibly in the mix.
Making the case for 2020 Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer to sign with the Phillies.
Former big-leaguer Carlos Peña said Thursday on MLB Network that the Mets certainly will have some interest in Bauer — who went 4-4 with a 1.73 ERA, 0.795 wHIP, and 100-17 strikeouts-to-walks ratio this past season for the Cincinnati Reds.
“They have some room there, maybe on a short-term deal and increase the AAV,” Peña said. “That is certainly a possibility, but a fit for him, I think the Phillies would be a great fit.”
Peña noted the history between Bauer and new Phillies pitching coach Caleb Cotham, who was the Reds’ assistant pitching coach in 2019 and 2020. They met way back in 2013 as clients of Driveline Baseball. The relationship picked up again in July 2019, when the Cleveland Indians traded Bauer to the Reds as part of a three-team, seven-player swap.
Earlier this offseason, Bauer told reporters that Cotham was “really helpful” with “technical stuff” in his mechanics. “I haven’t really had that situation before where I have someone that I respect from the technological standpoint, the really nitty-gritty pitch shaping and understanding the mechanics and how the ball was moving and stuff like that,” Bauer added. “It was good to have someone to bounce those ideas off of and have those conversations.”
Peña noted the history between Cotham and Bauer, and how the right-handed pitcher, in particular has been “very vocal” about how much he appreciates his input.
“So, I’m like, ‘Man, would [Philadelphia] be the place that [Bauer] blossoms?'” Peña said “I’m thinking, ‘[Dave] Dombrowski, Sam Fuld … maybe this is a guy that you should look at, especially if you want to thrive in this division that is so strong.'”
Trevor Bauer’s history with Caleb Cotham could only help him.
At his foundation, Peña calls Bauer an “effective velocity” (EV) guy. EV, according to Driveline Baseball, is when two pitches are thrown with the same velocity but at different locations — yet the batter perceives them to have different speeds, “depending on where a point of contact estimate with the pitch is made.”
“[Bauer] was walking around when he was 14 years old with the ‘Effective Velocity’ book underneath his arm,” Peña added. “Caleb is one of those guys who is a student of effective velocity [as well].”
Peña believes it would be best forB Bauer to return to his EV foundation, instead of being “inquisitive” and exploring other pitching theories. “Sometimes, [being inquisitive] is a good trait to have, but it can also hurt you, because you try to seek for more,” Peña continued. “In his case, I think he would be more consistent if he backed up and just went back to the foundation. That’s where he started — effective velocity and making good sequences.”
“Whenever he throws EV effective sequences, his hard-hit rate is minuscule. He still shows at-risk pitches and that’s when he makes mistakes,” said Peña.
When the Phillies signed J.T. Realmuto to a five-year, $115.5 million deal earlier this week, they essentially went “all-in” on the notion that they will continue to do whatever it takes to contend — despite being part of a National League East division which seems to improve as each day passes.
It is also worth nothing that Realmuto will only make $10 million in 2021, with deferred payments of $5 million each set for 2026 and 2027 — after he earns $23.875 million in 2022 through 2025. Will the Phillies spend the difference in the significant savings, only having to pay Realmuto $10 million in 2021? Perhaps, it could go toward a short-term, high-AAV-type deal to land Bauer in Philadelphia.
The Phillies don’t seem satisfied with their current starting rotation.
Last week, Dombrowski told reporters that, ideally, the Phillies would like to add some starting pitching depth: “Sometimes they are non-roster invitees that can come in and pitch,” he said. “But, I think that where we are, we have some young arms that we really like. I’m not sure how close they are to contributing right now. I think from an ideal perspective, it’s something we’re at least looking to see if we can find.”
Clearly, the Phillies are far from satisfied with their starting rotation. And, if Bauer pairs up with Cotham again, in theory, that could put the Phillies over the top and back into serious postseason contention.
Don’t rule them out just yet to consider pairing Bauer back with Cotham in a red uniform, only this time in Phillies red pinstripes.