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Trevor Bauer, unorthodox star with an unorthodox deal, gets an unorthodox Dodgers intro

Trevor Bauer, dominating on the mound, sometimes polarizing off it, was introduced by the Dodgers in an unorthodox Zoom news conference Thursday. (Kamil Krzaczynski/AP)

The Los Angeles Dodgers made their signing of Trevor Bauer official Thursday afternoon with a news conference unorthodox even for the Zoom era. A camera opened on a shot of the pitcher sitting next to team president Andrew Friedman on a platform in center field at Dodger Stadium, with Bauer sitting in the center, his face blurred at times by the glare of the Southern California sun.

The scene was fitting, given that the shine of adding the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner to the defending World Series champions obscured the picture of exactly what the Dodgers are getting in the enigmatic right-hander.

His baseball credentials are unique among those afforded record-breaking contracts — and Bauer’s $40 million salary for 2021, part of a three-year deal worth up to $102 million, makes him the highest-paid player for a single season in baseball history.

Bauer has been good for several years but excellent for two — a breakout 2018 that saw him post a 2.21 ERA over 175⅓ innings and the shortened 2020 in which he pitched to a 1.73 ERA, striking out 100 in 73 innings. His résumé gleams with durability. But it does not mirror Clayton Kershaw’s, which includes three Cy Young awards, three World Series trips and eight all-star appearances.

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Off the field, Bauer has been polarizing. In a sport that values being one of 26, in which no one in a clubhouse puts himself above the others, the outspoken Bauer is active on social media, speaks openly of his brand, sells merchandise on his website and referenced his “vlog” in his introductory news conference. He reiterated Thursday what he said many times all winter — that he sought a team that would be willing to start “a partnership” with him that would let him be himself.

Those habits run the risk of ruffling feathers in any clubhouse, let alone a World Series champion group loaded with veterans. But so far, most of Bauer’s critics have been found online.

Bauer has pestered women who challenge him on Twitter, a habit made more noticeable by the fact that he has not handled male critics on the platform so pointedly. In one such 2019 diatribe, Bauer made a comment that disparaged and discredited trans and nonbinary people.

Shortly after, he issued a statement discouraging similar harassment and promising to do better. A few weeks ago, a New York Daily News reporter tweeted that she received death threats and Holocaust jokes after Bauer attacked her on the platform in 2020.

“Everyone makes mistakes in the past. I try to learn from them,” Bauer said in answer to one of several questions he got about his social media behavior. None of those answers included the word “sorry.” When asked directly whether he would stop fighting back on social media, Bauer dodged and reiterated his commitment to “having a positive impact on the community.”

“I try to understand other people’s viewpoints on things and be better in the future. I think if you look at my history as a baseball player, my history on social media, my history as a person, those who know me well will see I apply that process to everything that I do,” Bauer said. “I’m committed to doing that moving forward as well.”

Friedman said Dodgers officials did their research on Bauer and even spoke to him about those issues. He said he hopes that he and his staff have built up “some trust and credibility” in terms of their vetting of players. Friedman said the Dodgers talked to clubhouse staff, trainers and especially teammates.

“There was some stuff that was more public with Trevor that we definitely wanted to dig into. We had multiple conversations with Trevor. Stan [Kasten] and I talked to Trevor,” Friedman said. “And the most important thing is every teammate we talked to, all the feedback we got from every organization he was with was not only incredibly positive about the type of teammate he is but also in terms of the impact he makes on each organization.”

Friedman said the Dodgers had targeted Bauer, a Southern California native, all offseason. He admitted that a week ago, when reports circulated suggesting Bauer was headed to the New York Mets, he went to bed “pretty bummed.”

On Friday morning, the Dodgers changed their offer in a way that made Bauer rethink things. He called to receive financial advice on tax implications, then had a chat with his father. Soon after, Bauer released a video saying he was a Dodger.

While many veteran pitchers seek long-term security in their big free agent deals — and with security expected to loom even larger because of uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic — Bauer chose a three-year deal with two opt-outs and record annual value for the first two years. He insisted the decision was about flexibility, not money.

“I want a chance to win, and I don’t want to be a player who signs a long-term deal and then is resented, either by the fan base or the organization or on my end for having my performance slip below what my contract dictates,” Bauer said.

If Bauer pitches to the level his contract dictates, even for just one year, the Dodgers are clear favorites to repeat as World Series champions. Friedman said one concern he had coming into 2021 was not the talent on the pitching staff but the depth — after a shortened season, would starting pitchers struggle to carry more than double the load they did last year?

In Bauer, Friedman saw depth and durability — and a player quick to adjust. He is a voracious consumer of analytics, one of the game’s most prominent stories about how a commitment to data can help an already solid player emerge as a star. Bauer said he chose the Dodgers in part because of the way they interpret data, not merely that they use it.

But many things about Bauer, from his two-agent tag team to his self-produced decision video, are different. And his experience with the Dodgers may end up that way, too.

A day before he was officially introduced, Bauer tweeted about his excitement to meet Dodgers fans but also his desire that they “have some respect for my personal space when I’m at my house or hotel.”

“It’s not ok to follow me through the hotel demanding that I sign,” he wrote, before explaining in his news conference that the message was prompted by an encounter with one particularly dogged fan in his Los Angeles hotel. Bauer has never played professionally in a market such as Los Angeles before, never played in a clubhouse as established and accomplished as that of the Dodgers.

“Obviously, time will tell,” Friedman said. “but I think he’ll be a tremendous add not just on the field but in the clubhouse, in the community.”