DETROIT – There is no good or bad here. Competition in the truest sense of the word was a factor, but not the decisive one.
It was simply a matter of who, for those responsible, was the best fit for their baseball team at the moment. On March 26, four days before the final exhibition game of spring training, the Indians selected Jake Bauers over Bobby Bradley as their first baseman when the regular season began.
The statistics said they got it wrong. Bradley, 24, scored with two homers and 11 RBI in 13 games .303 (10-for-33). He struck seven times, left once, and posted at 0.951 OPS.
The 25-year-old Bauers scored in 17 games with a homer and two RBI .211 (8:38). He hit 16 times, drew 10 walks and posted an OPS of 0.768.
The contract status of both players was included in the decision. Bradley still has a minor league option. Bauers doesn’t have one, which means if he hadn’t made the club the Indians could have lost him by waivers.
The Indians said that wasn’t the only reason they chose Bauers. Manager Terry Francona and baseball division president Chris Antonetti said they believe there is a good player in Bauers waiting to get out.
Is some management still trying to make the 2018 Winter Meet trade that brought Bauers from Tampa Bay to Cleveland to look good? Maybe. Yandy Diaz has become a prolific, if fragile, batsman for the Rays. But this is an organization built on patience. How many chances did they give Carlos Carrasco before he became a legitimate front starter?
The Bauers vs. Bradley competition was the main event of spring. When Bauers finally found out the job was his, he realized how much time he’d spent on it.
“I was exhausted that day after they told me,” he said. “I felt like I needed a nap.”
He wasn’t kidding. A few hours after learning he’d formed the club, Bauers, a good outfield player, made two mistakes in a game against the Rockies. It took him a while to relax. In the last two exhibition games he collected his first RBI and Homer of Camp.
“I couldn’t feel better in the clubhouse with my teammates, both physically and mentally,” said Bauers. “I feel in a really good place. The whole team is in a really good place. I know we are all looking forward to getting it going. “
Bauers didn’t start Thursday’s season opener when Yu Chang, a right-handed player, first played against Detroit-based left-handed Matthew Boyd. He pushed Chang with two hits in the sixth and showed up to the shortstop to end the inning.
Options can be a distraction for players. A player gets three in his career or he is on the 40-man roster. One option lasts for a year, which means you can switch between the major leagues and minors as often as the organization deems necessary during those three seasons. Some players are happy when the third option expires and the organization has to make a decision to keep or let go of it. Others find it nerve wracking.
“It’s easy to get involved with,” said Bauers. “It’s easy to think about. But the harder thing I’m trying to do is focus on today. … if you just focus on getting (to the ballpark) every day, everything else will take care of itself. Ultimately, I have no control over it.
“My only goal right now is to help the Cleveland Indians win baseball games. I hope to help the Cleveland Indians win many baseball games over the next 5 to 6 years. Whatever it is. “
Bauers scored in 2019 with 12 homers and 43 RBI .226 (84 for 372). He played almost every day for the first four months of the season. He was sent to the AAA Columbus class on August 1 when the Indians acquired Yasiel Puig of Cincinnati and Franmil Reyes of San Diego as part of the Trevor Bauer Deal.
Last year, Bauers didn’t appear in a major league game. He spent the season at the team’s alternate location at Classic Park in Eastlake.
He’s a hobbyist when it comes to hitting. If something doesn’t feel right, he makes a change here or there. Francona’s message to him this spring was to stay on course if things don’t go well on the plate. Stick with the program.
If Bauers is looking for a good start to the season, this is the right place for him. On June 14, 2019, he collected the ninth cycle in team history when he went 4 against 5 with four RBI at Comerica Park.
“We just talked about it in BP,” said Bauers before the season opener on Thursday. “Good memories. I would definitely want to do more here.”
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