LOS ANGELES --Dodgers president and CEO Stan Kasten said the organization's principal decision-makers were "unanimous" in their choice to release Trevor Bauer, expressing confidence that the team "made the right decision."
Kasten, Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, general manager Brandon Gomes and executive vice president Lon Rosen met with a small group of local reporters Wednesday, nearly three weeks after Bauer's release, in part to address lingering questions about a topic the organization had yet to speak about publicly.
Their answers, however, were guarded, due in part to the confidentiality provisions in the collective bargaining agreement and the sensitivities around talking about a current free agent. The abrupt end to Bauer's stint with the Dodgers left outsiders wondering how strongly, if at all, the team considered bringing him back, given the amount of time it took to reach a decision and a notable assertion made by Bauer himself.
After the Dodgers designated him for assignment on Jan. 6, Bauer wrote as part of his statement that the executives he spoke with in Arizona the prior day "wanted me to return and pitch for the team this year." The Dodgers released Bauer six days later, after he passed through waivers and no trade partner was found.
"I'm not going to get into contradicting or agreeing with anything about what was supposed to be a private conversation," Kasten said when asked about Bauer's claim. "I'll just say within a very short time we came back and made our decision. I think that speaks for itself."
Kasten did not want to go into specifics about the meeting, though sources with the team previously disputed Bauer's account.
"I don't want to talk about what went on, what was discussed, what wasn't discussed or who was there," Kasten said. "But we did hear from him. I thought it was the right thing to do. I'm happy that we did it, along with everything else that we did, to reach the best decision that we could. I stand by our decision. I'm very comfortable with it."
The Dodgers signed Bauer to a three-year, $102 million contract in February 2021, doing so despite rampant criticism surrounding his history of bullying on social media. Later that summer, a San Diego woman accused Bauer of taking rough sex too far while obtaining a temporary restraining order against him, prompting Major League Baseball to place him on administrative leave and open an investigation.
Bauer, who has denied wrongdoing at every turn, claimed two legal victories in the aftermath, first when a Los Angeles judge dismissed the woman's request for a permanent restraining order in August 2021 and then when the L.A. District Attorney's Office declined to file criminal charges in February 2022. But two other women made similar allegations to The Washington Post.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, who does not need a criminal conviction to punish players, followed by handing Bauer an unprecedented 324-game suspension near the end of April.
Bauer, 32, appealed the decision, triggering an arbitration process that played out in small increments over the course of eight months. On Dec. 22, independent arbitrator Martin Scheinman trimmed Bauer's suspension to 194 games, reinstating him immediately while docking his pay for the remaining 50 games at the start of the 2023 regular season. At that point, the Dodgers had 14 days to release him or add him to the roster. Many throughout the industry were surprised that they didn't reach their decision until the 14th day, with some wondering if the Dodgers were actually considering bringing him back.
Kasten didn't disclose how much that possibility was considered but did attribute the delay at least in part to timing, noting that the ruling came down the day before MLB's central offices, as well as the Dodgers' operations, were shutting down for the holidays.
"Until that day, we didn't know whether it would be all or nothing or anything in between," Kasten said of the arbitrator's ruling.
Friedman, Kasten added, was soon leaving the country on vacation and didn't return until three days before the deadline.
"There were no games we were playing," Kasten said. "We had the time. Check all our bases, get all the info you could get to make a decision, which we did, and that included hearing from Trevor because we had not spoken to him since the beginning of this. And because we had the time, we took the time to get as much info as we can to be sure we were making the right decision. That's what we did. We feel like we made the right decision. And we'll move on."
The Dodgers, Kasten said, spoke with a "representative sample" of players, coaches, staff members and fans to gauge their thoughts on Bauer potentially returning to the team. But the Dodgers were not privy to the results of MLB's investigation or the details around the subsequent arbitration process, as outlined in a domestic-violence policy that was jointly agreed to by MLB and the MLB Players' Association.
The details around the Dodgers' meeting with Bauer, and the motivation behind it, remain something of a mystery.
"Until we decided, I guess anything was possible," Kasten said, alluding to the possibility of Bauer rejoining the Dodgers. "But I think we all had a strong feeling all the way through the process of the right way to handle this. And the information we learned in those 14 days was valuable in us finalizing our decision."
Kasten added: "You know, this wasn't unanimous out in the real world -- among fans, among the media or whatnot. But the decision we reached was unanimous among the people that are charged with having to make this decision."
By releasing Bauer, who remains a free agent, the Dodgers will be responsible for about $22.5 million of his $32 million salary for 2023.
Friedman denied the widely held industry perception that uncertainty over the arbitrator's ruling, specifically tied to how much the Dodgers would owe Bauer, directly caused them to mostly bypass a star-studded free agent class. But it played a part, he acknowledged. The Dodgers initially hoped to get under the luxury tax to reset the penalties, but the ruling put them somewhere in the neighborhood of $15 million over the first threshold of $233 million, a source said.
"There was a great unknown in terms of how it would play out, and whether it would be scaled back entirely, upheld entirely, somewhere in the middle, which we obviously had no idea about," Friedman said. "But we compartmentalized that, and it didn't affect what we either did or tried to do."
The decision to sign Bauer was initially rooted in efficiency -- the opportunity to add a reigning Cy Young Award winner at the prime of his career on a short-term contract. But it didn't come without blowback. Bauer's introductory news conference was peppered with questions about acquiring a player who has been accused of cyberbullying and built a reputation as a difficult teammate. Friedman responded by touting the organization's culture and vetting process, adding that he believed Bauer had learned from prior transgressions.
Asked if what ultimately played out with Bauer prompted him to second-guess the team's background work on players, Friedman spoke mostly in generalities, saying: "We're constantly trying to improve our processes and things that we do. And if in a year from now we're not better than we are today, we're not doing our jobs."
At this point, with two weeks remaining until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, the Dodgers seem to have mostly moved on.
"Obviously a lot of what transpired was done between the players' association and Major League Baseball, and subsequently an independent arbitrator," Friedman said when asked what went into cutting ties with Bauer. "Most of what we know came from the fact that the commissioner's office and the independent arbitrator reviewed all the aspects of the case and found him to be in violation and to serve the longest suspension ever under this policy. And as we went through that, that was enough for us. We feel good about our process and what led us to where we are now and looking forward to getting to Camelback Ranch and looking forward."