The Cleveland Indians recently traded Jake Bauers to the Seattle Mariners after a myriad of mistakes in handling the young hitter.
To the chagrin of many (most?) fans, the Cleveland Indians designated Jake Bauers for assignment and ultimately traded him to the Seattle Mariners last week. The move came after Bauers struggled to hit yet again for the Tribe and being out of options, was removed from the 40-man to make room for reliever Blake Parker and open up first base for Bobby Bradley.
Given how Bradley has hit to this point, most won’t care about Bauers and honestly that’s probably for the best. Bauers is gone. But it still doesn’t sit well with me how badly the Indians mishandled the Bauers situation from the very start.
Was Rushed to Big Leagues
Jake Bauers came to the Cleveland Indians in the three-team deal that brought Carlos Santana to Cleveland and shipped out Edwin Encarnacion and Yandy Diaz. Bauers was coming off a rookie season that saw him hit close to league average as a 22-year old. However, he struggled mightily in the second half of the 2018 season for the Tampa Bay Rays, hitting just .167/.281/.307 with a 68 wRC+ after the All-Star break. In the first half of that season he hit a robust .252/.368/.496 with a 140 wRC+.
He showed he could hit big league pitching, though pitchers and teams clearly found some weaknesses. Nothing about that season was uncommon for 22-year-old but that second half did suggest that maybe Bauers could use some more seasoning in Triple-A. He did not get it though as in 2019 the Indians threw Bauers right into the everyday lineup at his natural first base position.
Except that’s not true. They put him in left field and started Santana at first base and non-roster invitee Hanley Ramirez was the designated hitter. This wouldn’t have been so bad if Bauers was playing a ton of outfield in spring training but he played more first base since it looked like he and Santana would be splitting first base/designated hitter until Hanley took the job at the eleventh hour.
Bauers struggled for much of 2019 and finally late in the year was optioned to Triple-A Columbus, burning a minor league option, which is another issue.
Minor League options were wasted
All players get three minor league options to use once they are added to their team’s 40-man roster and Bauers was obviously no different. He burned his first in 2018 when he was with the Rays so the Tribe knew he was down to two when they acquired him in the trade. Perhaps that’s why they were hesitant to start him in Triple-A, but it’d be a weird reason if true. Instead they waited until end of July to send him down.
Bauers spent just one month in the minors in 2019 (August) but it was over the 20 day limit and it cost him his second minor league option. Had the Indians waited 10-12 days or so to send him down they could have saved the option, but they had just made some deadline moves so I’ll give them a pass there.
Where they really made the head-scratching decision was to have him at the alternate site for all of 2020. Due to the pandemic rosters were set at 30 to start the season (not 26) and then kept at 28 for the remainder of the year. This allowed teams to carry players they usually wouldn’t as depth, which the Tribe did, particularly with Yu Chang who also entered 2020 with just one minor league option remaining.
In addition to teams having extra roster spots the season was of course only 60 games long. You only had to keep a player up in the majors for about 40-45 games to make sure you didn’t burn an option. The Tribe did this with Chang which is why he still has a minor league option this season. With Bauers though, he never even saw the big league roster, which is another major blunder.
Never even gave him a look in 2020
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I get it, the Cleveland Indians had Carlos Santana at first base and Franmil Reyes as their designated hitter. Where was Jake Bauers going to get playing time? Oh wait, maybe the outfield where the Indians had him starting every day just one year prior? You didn’t even have to start him, you could have had him on the bench like Chang and used him as a pinch hitter or even a pinch runner for your catcher. Anything.
Instead he sat at the alternate site all year at the age of 24, wasting a full year (along with Bobby Bradley, though that’s another topic). How could you trade for a former top 50 prospect in Bauers and then one year later not think he could crack a 28 or 30 man roster for six weeks?
I could see it if he had an extra option like Bradley Zimmer, Oscar Mercado, and Bradley had. You still could get looks in 2021 with those guys, but they knew they were burning their final option with Bauers and did it any way, thus forcing them into using Bauers to start 2021 and sending Bradley to Triple-A. Or at least they were forced to do that or just cut Bauers without getting a final shot, which he got in 2021, right? Wrong.
Bauers didn’t get a real shot
Everyone wants to say the club gave Jake Bauers his shot this year and he blew it and while technically they did give him a shot, it was a pretty half-ass one. Bauers was with the Indians for over two months and only five times did he get at least two days in a row of more than two plate appearances in a game. FIVE TIMES, and all of them occurred after the month of April.
Just putting a guy on the roster and saying he’s your first baseman doesn’t make it so if you’re not going to play him. It should come as no surprise that Jake Bauers hit just .121/.171.152 with a -22 wRC+ in his first 36 plate appearances and in his next 103 (counting time in Seattle) he’s hit .253/.340/.385 with a 105 wRC+.
Those first 36 plate appearances were spread over nearly four weeks too (thru April 26th), while the last 103 have been in the seven weeks since. Amazing what a little playing time actually does for a 25-year-old bat.
This isn’t to say that the player doesn’t deserve (a lot) of the blame too though. Jake Bauers didn’t hit when given his few chances and that’s ultimately on him. Players have to perform. And perhaps Bauers simply needed to get out of Cleveland. Sometimes a guy will struggle and then a change of scenery does the trick.
But it’s still disheartening, to me at least, that the Indians gave up on a guy with so much potential in Bauers while giving him 43 games and just 113 plate appearances total in his age 24 and 25 seasons.