Dodgers' decision to release Trevor Bauer is the right thing, but it's not a good thing

Warning: The following article contains strong language and allegations of domestic violence and sexual assault.

The Los Angeles Dodgers’ decision to designate Trevor Bauer for assignment, announced Friday, is neither cruel and unusual nor reparations, though it is likely to be presented as one or the other. It is the context-specific consequence of his actions, hopefully the last — and not merely latest — public chapter of unknowable private anguish. It’s the right thing, but it’s not a good thing.

The Dodgers signed Bauer — already controversial for his self-styled, iconoclastic approach to baseball and his odious online behavior — to a three-year deal ahead of the 2021 season. He was the reigning National League Cy Young award winner, yet his addition prompted immediate inquiries about whether the Dodgers had done their due diligence.

“We appreciated the risk involved,” president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman told Yahoo Sports at the time. “And I think, more than anything, we were making a judgment looking forward.”

Bauer made 17 starts that season before reports emerged of a San Diego woman seeking a restraining order against him for alleged sexual assault, and he was placed on administrative leave shortly before the All-Star break. The restraining order was ultimately denied, and after a five-month investigation, the Los Angeles court system declined to pursue criminal charges against Bauer.

But in April 2022, MLB — which is not pursuant to the legal system and requires a lower standard of proof — announced a 324-game suspension after its own investigation, which involved speaking to other women who made similar allegations of consensual sexual encounters that turned violent.

Bauer became the first player to appeal his suspension under MLB’s domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse policy, triggering a months-long arbitration process that played out like a trial. That concluded two weeks ago, when it was announced that Martin Scheinman, the independent arbitrator retained by both MLB and the MLB Players Association, had reduced Bauer’s suspension to 194 games. It is still the longest ever levied under the policy, but the reduction by 130 games — along with a compromise crediting Bauer for the games he missed in the second half of 2021 while on the restricted list, in conjunction with docking his pay to start 2023 — made Bauer eligible for immediate reinstatement and thus gave the Dodgers two weeks to decide whether to release him or add him back to the roster.

They chose the former.

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There continue to be legal proceedings; Bauer, who continues to deny all the allegations against him, has brought defamation suits against media outlets and against the San Diego woman. She countersued, and recently, a judge threw out Bauer’s petition to dismiss her suit. He remains litigious and outwardly unrepentant. It’s possible that some ultimate truth will be revealed as the civil suits unfold, but that seems unlikely. Hopefully that means we can stop debating the details of what occurred, the morality or motives of the women who have spent months, if not years, litigating and reliving what one of them called “the worst thing that happened to me.”

The Dodgers owed Bauer $22.5 million this year regardless of whether they rostered him — his original 2023 salary minus the $9.5 million it was docked to start the season. If another team signs him, the Dodgers stand to pay him all that except $720,000 — the major-league minimum — to pitch against them. He was once among the best starting pitchers in the sport.

I’m sure that weighed on this decision, as it did on the Dodgers’ relative restraint this offseason. With the arbitration in limbo, their payroll relative to the luxury tax threshold was unknown and unknowable. In other words, the particulars of Bauer’s punishment had real baseball implications. That might seem craven, but that's the reason we care. Really. How many other private investigations of sexual misconduct have you followed for 18 months?

The whole point and problem is that Bauer is famous for pitching so well. That’s why the Dodgers paid him so much in the first place and why it’s now preferable to pay him to not put on their jersey again. People would notice if he did. In releasing him, the Dodgers are doing what’s best for them: protecting their product, their impeachable position as a family-friendly way to spend a sunny afternoon in Southern California, their root-ability, their place in the headlines alongside scores and not the inflammatory things Bauer might say while denying that he did anything wrong.

That might seem craven, too, but it’s a sign of progress for a sports organization to decide it’s worth millions of dollars to distance itself from a talented man — especially one who can point to the limits of the legal system in claiming innocence — because anonymous women brought credible accusations against him and countless others would be pained to see those accusations ignored or invalidated. The progress is in the potential for public backlash and, perhaps, in the particulars — how singular a starting pitcher’s position is in a broadcast or a news cycle, how outspoken and unapologetic Bauer has demonstrated himself to be.

He won’t let this end here — MLB promised at least one witness that if Bauer retaliated legally for their participation in the investigation, it would attempt to discipline him further — but maybe now it won’t be the Dodgers’ problem. They decided they would rather not be associated with him, as is their right.

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The people who continue to defend Bauer — and, in doing so, incriminate themselves, at the very least, as individuals whose primary concern when a woman leaves an intimate encounter feeling violated is legal culpability — will complain that this is akin to an extrajudicial execution. As if adoration for athletic ability or the opportunity to pitch at the highest level is some kind of human right, as if sports stardom is not a holistic honor, as if employers can’t cut ties with anyone they deem problematic.

As if it’s an injustice for someone to be judged for their actions or reactions and face consequences accordingly.

But I’m wary, too, of casting this as a moral victory. MLB and the Dodgers were able to do what the legal system has yet to — hold Bauer accountable — but the effect is simply to keep him out of stadiums and off our screens (at least until another team looks to capitalize on the gray area between what can happen and what should). Fans who wish to forget him will be given the opportunity to do so. That’s not nothing. It’s a public catharsis for having spent any energy or emotion on a man who proved undeserving.

But then again, the public was never really the aggrieved party.

You can believe the Dodgers did the decent thing and also that it was ultimately a baseball business decision. Because that’s the only kind they can make. That’s as far as their purview extends. Sports are better at symbolism than they are at litigating sexual assault. That’s OK. Just remember that what we’re celebrating is largely a symbolic victory.

It has been a year and a half since the public part of this saga started, and what I wrote then still holds true: The bad stuff already happened. Nothing that happens now can change that.