Is Trevor Bauer long for Cincinnati?
Despite lofty preseason expectations, the Reds stumbled to an 11-17 start in their first 28 games of the shortened MLB season.
The sluggish start had left the Reds with just a 30 percent chance of reaching the postseason by late August, according to MLB insider Jon Morosi -- even with eight NL playoff spots open in MLB's new 16-team playoff format.
Naturally, the Reds' dim postseason prospects are fueling speculation about a potential sale. Ace pitcher Trevor Bauer is of particular interest, whose trade fate is "very consequential" for the team, as Morosi puts it.
Bauer, the polarizing right-hander, is headed for free agency at season's end. He was dominant at times through his first five outings in 2020, throwing two shutouts and logging a shiny 1.65 ERA. It marked a return to his 2018 form, when Bauer was an All-Star and finished sixth in Cy Young balloting for the Indians.
Last season saw some negative regression for Bauer, and a midseason trade to the Reds -- but he still managed a respectable 4.48 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning in 213 frames.
Now, with the Reds' postseason hopes on the ropes, he could be on the move for the second time in as many years.
It's unclear what the Reds can hope to expect in exchange for such a brief rental, particularly in the unprecedented shortened season. Most early reports suggest the deadline will be relatively quiet, but with most of MLB's 30 teams still technically vying for one of 16 playoff berths, it only takes one pitching-needy trade partner to make it happen.
Here's five playoff contenders we identified where Bauer could make a difference down the stretch in 2020:
New York Yankees
With James Paxton injured and J.A. Happ persona non grata, the Bombers have reportedly been expressing interest to other teams about acquiring pitching reinforcements. Bauer's former Cleveland teammate Mike Clevinger would make a lot of sense and is under team control for two more years, but he'll also probably cost a lot more for that reason.
There's also the matter of Bauer's well-documented icy relationship with Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, which dates back to their days as college teammates at UCLA and continued on through the cheating scandal that engulfed the Houston Astros.
Could they make it work for two months for the sake of a World Series title?
The Phillies were 3 games back in the wild card through their first 25, a minor miracle considering their historically bad pitching performance early in the season. The lineup, though, has been better than advertised, led by superstar catcher JT Realmuto and the resurgent Bryce Harper. Rookie slugger Alec Bohm looks like the real deal as well.
Will they add a dependable third starter to pair with Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler?
The Twins have gotten great pitching so far in the early season, but you wonder if they'll want to add some insurance. Jose Berrios is a rock, but after that there are fair questions about regression, health or age for Randy Dobnak, Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill and Michael Pineda. The Twins would surely feel a lot better with Bauer following up Berrios, then riding the two or three hottest hands from there.
Chicago White Sox
Just as many predicted, the Pale Hose are one of baseball's most improved teams, and looked like a legitimate postseason threat in the closing days of August. Surprisingly, the pitching staff is a big reason why, boasting a top-10 ERA among MLB's 30 teams. But is it sustainable? Dylan Cease could be in for some major regression after a hot start, while hard-throwing Reynaldo Lopez has struggled upon returning from shoulder soreness.
Mr. No-Hitter Lucas Giolito and veteran lefty Dallas Keuchel have performed as hoped. A third top-shelf starter like Bauer could go a long way toward cementing the team's turnaround.
The renegade A's followed up their surprisingly strong 2019 with a blistering-hot start to the 2020 campaign. Despite the sprint, Oakland's pitching rotation has some serious question marks. Chris Bassitt has been a much-needed revelation at the back end, and former top prospect Jesus Luzardo continues to hold his own, but Frankie Montas, Mike Fiers and Sean Manaea have all taken a step back. Bauer could step in as the staff ace from Day 1.