In a move that will surprise no one, Trevor Bauer will reject the Reds’ qualifying offer, agent Rachel Luba announced on Twitter. There was never any doubt that Bauer, a Cy Young finalist in the National League, would turn down the one-year, $18.9MM qualifying offer. By rejecting it, he’ll now be tied to draft pick compensation this winter, although that seems unlikely to stand in the way of him securing a considerably more lucrative contract.
Bauer, 30 in January, led the National League in ERA (1.73) and WHIP (0.79), and he paced all of Major League Baseball with two shutouts and a paltry 5.1 hits per nine innings pitched. The former No. 3 overall draft pick was every bit the ace that Cincinnati hoped he’d be when acquiring him prior to the 2019 trade deadline, largely putting his rough two-month showing with the 2019 Reds in the rearview mirror.
It was the second Cy Young-caliber season for Bauer in three years, as he also turned in 175 1/3 innings of 2.21 ERA ball with the 2018 Indians. Over the past three seasons combined, Bauer has worked 461 1/3 innings with a combined 3.18 ERA and 3.38 FIP in addition to averages of 11.2 strikeouts, 3.0 walks and 1.01 home runs per nine innings pitched.
Because Bauer rejected the qualifying offer, any club that signs him will now take a hit in next year’s draft. A team that paid the luxury tax (e.g. the Yankees) would surrender its second- and fifth-highest selections to sign Bauer. They’d also see their league-allotted international bonus pool reduced by $1MM. Clubs that receive revenue-sharing in a typical season and do not exceed the tax threshold are “only” required to sign their third-highest selection to sign a qualified free agent. Clubs that do not receive revenue sharing and stay under the luxury barrier are penalized by forfeiting their second-highest pick and seeing their international pool reduced by $500K.
As for the Reds, they’ll be a very interested onlooker with regard to Bauer’s contract. The right-hander made it known for years that he did not ever plan to sign a multi-year deal, instead maxing out his earnings on a perpetual series of one-year pacts. The shortened nature of the term would, in theory, allow for greater earning potential so long as Bauer remained healthy and pitched well; teams are willing to pay a higher annual rate in order to avoid long-term risk. Recently, however, both Bauer and Luba have indicated that he’ll consider long-term deals in free agency as well.
That’s of particular importance for the Reds, as they’d receive a compensatory pick after the first round of next year’s draft should Bauer sign elsewhere — but only if his total guarantee is greater than $50MM. If Bauer goes the one-year route, he’ll surely fall shy of that threshold, meaning the Reds would only be entitled to a pick between Competitive Balance Round B and Round 3 of the draft. Essentially, it’s a difference of roughly 45 spots in the draft order, as well as the considerably greater slot value that is associated with the higher of the two selections.