There’s an odd bit of symmetry to Trevor Bauer’s departure from the Indians.
The talented but mercurial starting pitcher left Cleveland as part of a three-way deal that included the Cincinnati Reds – which is the same way he arrived.
Both deals also involved an impending free agent with a year of arbitration eligibility who the Indians were unable or unwilling to pay to retain.
This time, it was Bauer himself. He’d proven his talent, and was eligible once again for arbitration after this season. He’d suggested after he was a free agent following the 2020 season that he’d sign only one-year deals, betting on himself. His combination of pitching ability and skill at remaining healthy – and the certainty that someone would always be willing to pay a premium for those two skills – made him virtually unaffordable for the Indians.
But in 2012, when he was traded to the Indians, the centerpiece from the Tribe’s perspective was Shin-Soo Choo. The Indians had acquired the South Korean player in a midseason deal in 2006, sending Ben Broussard to Seattle.
After bouncing back and forth between Cleveland and the Tribe’s Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo, and then getting Tommy John surgery at the end of the 2007 season, Choo had become a valuable part of the Cleveland lineup, but the Indians saw no hope of re-signing him.
Following the 2012 season, during the MLB owners meetings in Tennessee, Choo was dealt in a three-team trade involving the Reds and the Diamondbacks. Choo went to Cincinnati, along with Jason Donald (himself part of a significant Indians trade, coming to Cleveland from Philadelphia in the Cliff Lee trade) and $3.5 million. The Diamondbacks got shortstop Didi Gregorius from the Reds and Lars Anderson and Tony Sipp from the Indians. (Contemporary Plain Dealer coverage says Asdrubal Cabrera was discussed as part of the deal, but Gregorius was more controllable – not that it did the Diamondbacks much good. He was part of another three-team trade two years later that sent him to the Yankees, where he remains to this day.)
“We think the four players we’ve acquired will not only impact the 2013 season at the major-league level, but will impact us for years to come,” General Manager Chris Antonetti said at the time. And he proved to be right.
The best parts of the deal, from the Indians’ perspective were Bauer and Shaw, unfairly maligned but capable of eating innings. (After Shaw went to Colorado, Terry Francona said it would take two relievers to replace his productivity.) Bauer was the third overall pick in the 2011 draft out of UCLA, and was even then still highly thought of for his potential – if less well-regarded for his personality quirks.
Bauer made his Indians debut the following year and blossomed into a top starter in a rotation that became one of the best in baseball. He really started to live up to his potential – and may continue to become even better.
He may even stay in a Reds uniform longer than Choo, who played one season in Cincinnati and then signed with the Texas Rangers – with whom he still plays today.
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