The Reds have signed first baseman/outfielder Jake Bauers to a minor league contract, per a team announcement. The VC Sports Group client will be in Major League Spring Training as a non-roster invitee. Bauers was eligible to sign a minor league deal even during the lockout due to the fact that he was outrighted off the Mariners’ 40-man roster before the 2021-22 offseason officially began (and is thus technically a minor league free agent).
Still just 26 years of age, Bauers isn’t terribly far removed from ranking as one of the sport’s top 100 prospects, per both Baseball America and MLB.com, in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 offseasons. He’s been a part of two notable three-team trades, going from San Diego to Tampa Bay in the Wil Myers/Steven Souza/Trea Turner/Joe Ross blockbuster (also including the Nats) and also going from Tampa Bay to Cleveland in the Carlos Santana/Edwin Encarnacion/Yandy Diaz deal (which also included the Mariners).
Bauers has logged 1126 plate appearances in the big leagues over the past three seasons but hasn’t produced in Tampa Bay, Cleveland or in Seattle (where he landed following a third minor trade this past summer). He’s a career .213/.307/.348 hitter with 27 home runs, 15 stolen bases and a 26.4% strikeout rate. Bauers has drawn a free pass in 11.5% of his Major League plate appearances, which is well above the league-average, but strikeouts and a general lack of hard contact have suppressed his offensive contributions.
That said, on a minor league pact, there’s little harm in seeing if another change of scenery will bring about better results. Bauers is a career .266/.363/.417 hitter in Triple-A and had near-identical numbers at the Double-A level. He’s drawn average or better defensive marks both as a corner outfielder and a first baseman in the Majors. And, if he were to put it together and tap into that prospect potential, he’d be controllable via arbitration for three years beyond the 2022 season.
The Reds aren’t likely to have much of a need at first base, barring an injury to Joey Votto, but their outfield mix is a bit less certain. Jesse Winker is locked into left field, and Tyler Naquin played his way into at least a platoon role with a solid showing at the plate through 127 games last season. However, the team hasn’t received durability and/or consistent productivity from any of Nick Senzel, Shogo Akiyama or Aristides Aquino. Twenty-six-year-old speedster TJ Friedl might’ve earned himself some consideration with a .290/.361/.419 showing in 36 plate appearances down the stretch last season, too, but Cincinnati’s outfield setup is hardly written in stone. Add in the likely advent of a designated hitter in the National League, and Bauers could at least play his way into a bench role with a productive Spring Training effort.