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Column: Will Bauer signing end Justin Turner’s L.A. tenure? Dodgers must ensure it doesn’t

Trevor Bauer pitches for the Cincinnati Reds in September 2019.
Trevor Bauer, pictured pitching for the Cincinnati Reds in 2019, agreed to a free-agent deal with the Dodgers on Friday for a reported three years and $102 million.
(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

Go ahead, imagine what adding Trevor Bauer will do to the Dodgers’ rotation. Start making plans for October. Dream about another championship.

Just know the stunning deal could have unwanted consequences.

Such as Justin Turner finishing his career elsewhere. Or the departures of Clayton Kershaw or Corey Seager after this season.

Bauer’s three-year, $102-million contract is basically a two-year, $85-million deal, as the pitcher is expected to decline a $17-million player option for the final year unless he underperforms or is injured.

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The relatively short length of the contract limits the Dodgers’ exposure, but only so much.

The Dodgers astonishingly signed Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer to a 3-year, $102-million deal. The best team in baseball just got enormously better.

The Dodgers could resign themselves to paying luxury-tax surcharges over the next couple of years. Otherwise, something will have to give. The implications could be significant, particularly on the organization’s culture.

Who would have guessed that after years of measured spending, Andrew Friedman would place such a sizable wager on a pitcher with a career earned-run average of 3.90 in Bauer?

The Dodgers are already tens of millions of dollars beyond the luxury-tax threshold of $210 million for the upcoming season. They have already pushed all-in. They might as well re-sign Turner. They should re-sign Turner.

Which doesn’t necessarily mean they will. The prospect is unsettling.

This is about more than the vacancy they have at third base. Turner represents this period of Dodgers baseball as much as any player, and that counts Kershaw. There’s a reason fans are panicking over the possibility he could soon be playing for another team.

He’s the player who returned to his hometown to restart his stalled career and become an All-Star. He didn’t just rejoin the community, he became one of its most prominent citizens through his charitable endeavors. His imprint in the city is such that the majority of fans have forgiven him for his irresponsible decision to celebrate the World Series on the field after testing positive for COVID-19. They want to see him retire here, so they can give him the sendoff he deserves.

It’s fiction that Trevor Bauer joining the Dodgers on a rich three-year contract means that baseball needs a salary cap so every team can compete.

Behind the symbolism, behind his iconic red beard, is real substance. Turner was the leader the team didn’t have for many years, a unifying presence who was respected across ethnic and generational lines. When the team held a meeting on the eve of its postseason opener last year, Turner and Mookie Betts were the two players who spoke.

Turner was also famously dependable when the games counted most. He’s a career .295 hitter in the postseason. In the World Series last year, he batted .320 with a pair of home runs.

The luxury-tax threshold could be a consideration again next year when Kershaw and Seager will be eligible to test the open market.

Does Bauer’s presence make the Dodgers any less likely to re-sign Kershaw? Will Bauer’s contract make it possible for them to offer Seager the kind of megadeal that would be necessary to retain him if the shortstop has another MVP-caliber season?

The questions are especially unsettling because the Dodgers can’t be certain of what they have in Bauer.

He has registered an ERA of less than 4.18 only twice in his career: In a 60-game season last year and in 2018.

With the addition of Trevor Bauer, how will the 2021 Dodgers rotation compare with great rotations from the team’s past?

There are also apprehensions about his character, as he has used his Twitter account to not only spread conspiracy theories about Barack Obama and George Soros, but also to harass women.

This is a gamble.

Six years ago, in his first offseason as the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, Friedman traded Matt Kemp, who at the time was considered the heart and soul of the team. While Friedman risked disrupting the chemistry of a team that won consecutive division titles, he gained financial flexibility by unloading Kemp’s contract.

The Dodgers will be taking a similar chance if they fail to re-sign Turner. Only this time, instead of gaining economic freedom, they could find themselves limited in what they could do.


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