Paul Sullivan: Trevor Bauer, the top free agent on the market, signs with world champion Dodgers, making the rich even richer

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Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune
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CHICAGO — It wasn’t exactly “The Decision,” the made-for-ESPN disaster NBA star LeBron James made in 2010 when he announced he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat.

But Trevor Bauer announced his signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday in a manner unlike any other baseball free agent in memory.

The reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, whose deal reportedly is worth a guaranteed $102 million over three years and includes single-season-record salaries of $40 million and $45 million the next two years with opt-outs after each season, revealed his destination on a video posted on his YouTube channel.

In the video, which Bauer also tweeted, he narrates an essay on the importance of a baseball uniform over highlights and lowlights of his career. Included are great moments in baseball, including the scene outside Wrigley Field in 2016 when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series in Cleveland.

“This season is about making sure history remembers us as we wish to be remembered,” Bauer says. “This season is about adding to our legacy.”

After the video cuts to black, Bauer then appears wearing a Dodgers uniform.

“And I can’t wait, Dodger fans,” he says at the end.

It was a Hollywood ending for a player who loves the limelight and doesn’t mind tooting his own horn.

With Bauer’s signing, the top free agent of the winter is off the board, and the world champions got even stronger with spring training about to begin in camps in Florida and Arizona.

Bauer spent much of the offseason teasing his availability on social media, asking fans in various cities whether they wanted him to play for their favorite team. In some eyes it was a case of a super-inflated ego run amok. Bauer has courted controversy throughout his career and often has used social media to criticize others, including Commissioner Rob Manfred, writers, fans and whomever else he disagreed with.

One of the writers he took aim at during the offseason was veteran Jon Heyman, who got the last laugh Friday when he scooped Bauer’s video announcement by tweeting Bauer was signing with the Dodgers a few minutes before it was posted.

While Bauer might appear self-absorbed and thin-skinned, he also happens to be one of the most talented pitchers in baseball. And as long as teams were willing to put up with the drama that’s certain to follow him, it was a certainty he would become one of the most coveted free agents this winter, no matter the asking price.

Unfortunately for fans of the Chicago White Sox, his asking price was well beyond what the Sox were willing to spend on a starter. The Cubs, who have shied away from the free-agent market as they pare payroll, were never even rumored to be a possibility in the Bauer sweepstakes.

After little movement among the top free agents, Bauer’s choice reportedly was between the Dodgers and New York Mets. Bauer’s agent, Rachel Luba, tweeted “Down to 2” on Thursday, and the Mets reportedly gave Bauer a noon deadline Friday to accept their final offer.

Whether Bauer filmed a different ending to his video wearing a Mets uniform is unknown, but his social media savvy suggests he might have had a half-dozen different endings ready to go, just in case. But in the end, Bauer, a Southern California native who attended UCLA, wound up going home.

In earning his first Cy Young Award, Bauer posted a 1.73 ERA with the Cincinnati Reds in 2020, second in the majors to the Cleveland Indians’ Shane Bieber. He joins an already solid rotation that led the National League last year with a 3.29 ERA and includes Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw. Bauer also will be backed by a lineup that led the majors in runs and home runs in 2020 and will have superstar Mookie Betts for an entire season instead of just 60 games and the postseason.

The Dodgers acquired Betts from the Boston Red Sox one year ago and later signed him to a 12-year, $365 million deal, including a $65 million signing bonus. The move paid off — they went on to win their first World Series since 1988, beating the Tampa Bay Rays in six games.

Most of the Dodgers’ stars have returned, with the exception of third baseman Justin Turner, who remains an unsigned free agent.

Despite the relative lack of lucrative, long-term deals for free agents this offseason, the deals given to Bauer and other top free agents, including J.T. Realmuto and George Springer, disproved the narrative owners would be unwilling to spend following losses in revenue caused by the pandemic-marred 2020 season. While many have held the line on spending this offseason, it was their choice.

The teams that really wanted to win were willing to pay the freight. The ones that didn’t used the pandemic as an excuse to stand still.