CINCINNATI — For more than nine years, Trevor Bauer has kept a photo on his cell phone of Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer being awarded the American League Cy Young Award. It has served as motivation for the Reds free-agent right-hander who dreamed that one day he might also accept baseball’s most coveted award for pitchers.
On Wednesday, that dream became reality for Bauer, who became the first pitcher in Reds franchise history to win the National League Cy Young Award.
“It means a lot,” Bauer said via video conference following the announcement. “It has been my goal. Something I’ve chased for nine years now. I’ve been studying, learning, researching, trying to get better. I have overcome a lot to accomplish something that feels very special."
Throughout the Cincinnati Reds’ storied history, they have had 31 players inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, 12 players named National League Most Valuable Player, and seven Rookie of the Year winners. But they never had a pitcher win the Cy Young Award.
“That’s a huge honor,” Bauer said. “The oldest franchise in baseball. It’s about time that Cincy had one.”
Bauer received 27 of the 30 first-place votes, and three second-place votes.
It was a clean sweep for the state of Ohio in Cy Young Award voting, with the Cleveland Indians’ Shane Bieber becoming the unanimous choice in the American League.
Bauer went 5-4 this season with a 1.73 ERA and 100 strikeouts through 73 innings.
Although Cy Young Award voting is concluded prior to the postseason, Bauer saved his finest performance for the playoffs, when he struck out 12 through 7 2/3 shutout innings in Game 1 of the NL Wild Card series against the Atlanta Braves. The Reds lost that game 1-0 in 13 innings and were eventually swept in three games.
Bauer, who was acquired by the Reds in a three-team trade in July, was among three finalists for Cy Young, joining the Cubs’ Yu Darvish and the Mets’ Jacob deGrom.
During the 60-game regular season, which was abbreviated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bauer led the NL in ERA and opponents’ batting average (.159). His 100 strikeouts ranked second in the league. He allowed 5.1 hits per nine innings and his two shutouts were the most in the NL.
Bauer was at his best down the stretch. With every victory precious for the Reds as they managed to overcome a slow start to the season and qualify for the postseason, Bauer posted a 1.29 ERA over his final five starts.
“The first half of the season was very frustrating,” Bauer said. “While I was having fun personally, losing more games than you win isn’t fun. Success is fun. That whole process was very fun for me. I believe our best months of baseball were ahead of us.”
A few Reds pitchers have flirted with winning the Cy Young Award. The Reds have had five runners-up and two third-place finishers.
It was a case of poor timing for a few of the Reds’ Cy Young hopefuls.
In 1981, the Reds had the best record in baseball and arguably the best pitcher in Tom Seaver, who went 14-2 with a 2.54 ERA in 23 starts. But the season was cut short due to the players’ strike and Seaver, who passed away in August, finished second to then-Dodgers rookie Fernando Valenzuela.
Danny Jackson had one of the finest seasons for any Reds pitcher in 1988 with 23 wins and 15 complete games. But, unfortunately for Jackson, it was in that same season that Orel Hershiser had his record 59 consecutive scoreless innings streak and the Dodgers’ ace claimed the Cy Young.
In 2014, Johnny Cueto, who finished fourth in Cy Young voting two years before, went 20-9 with a 2.25 ERA. But Clayton Kershaw wasn’t just the Cy Young Award winner for the Dodgers, he also was named league MVP. Cueto settled for second.
But Bauer finally broke the ice for the Reds in his first season with the club, helping anchor one of the best rotations in all of baseball. Now the question is, will Bauer be back next year?
Last week, Bauer’s agent, Rachel Luba, tweeted that her client had rejected the Reds’ qualifying offer of $18.9 million.
If Bauer signs with another team, the Reds will receive a compensatory draft choice, either before Competitive Balance Round A if his contract is $50 million or more or before Competitive Balance Round B if he signs for less than that.
It is uncertain whether the Reds have enough in the financial coffers to make a serious bid to re-sign Bauer, who turns 30 in January. But the right-hander still has a lot left in the tank. Over the past three seasons combined, he has 353 strikeouts in 286 innings.
While Bauer is expected to have his choice of prospective suitors during the free-agency period, he spoke fondly of his season in Cincinnati and left open the possibility of returning.
“When you get traded somewhere, you don’t know some of the players, you don’t know the culture of the team, the locker room, the fans, the city,” Bauer said. “It’s a learning process. I’ve been treated very well. I’d love to be back. I feel very much at home.”