Jake Bauers’ stay in baseball purgatory ended Wednesday evening just as the Mariners were waiting to take the field in Detroit.
Having been designated for assignment by the Cleveland Indians on June 5, he could only sit in his apartment and wait to see what was in store for his baseball career. Would he get claimed off waivers by a team? Would he clear waivers and be outrighted to the minor leagues?
At about 6 p.m., Bauers got a call from Cleveland general manager Mike Chernoff, informing him that he’d been traded to the Mariners.
In return, Seattle sent cash considerations to complete the deal. The Mariners announced the trade early Thursday morning, hours ahead of their series finale at Comerica Park with the Tigers. Seattle designated infielder Jack Mayfield for assignment to make room for Bauers.
And given the proximity of Cleveland to Detroit, Bauers was able to make an early drive and be in the lineup for Seattle, starting at first base and batting seventh. Seattle will open a three-game series at Progressive Field in Cleveland on Friday, so Bauers can drive back after the game and finish the rest of the transition to a new team.
“As opposed to hopping on a flight and going through all that (COVID-19 protocols), I just thought it’d be easier just to kind of drive up this morning and then drive back,” he said. “Obviously, we’re headed there right after the game and then I can get everything packed up and move on.”
The left-handed hitting Bauers comes to the Mariners having played in 43 games with Cleveland this season, posting a .190/.277/.280 slash line with three doubles, two homers, six RBI, 12 walks and 27 strikeouts in 113 plate appearances.
In parts of three MLB seasons, two with Cleveland and one with Tampa Bay, he has a .211/.309/.365 slash line with 41 doubles, three triples, 25 homers and 97 RBI in 256 games.
In Thursday’s 8-3 loss to the Tigers, he went 1 for 4 with a single in his first at-bat and later drove in a run with a ground ball out.
Bauers is a solid defensive first baseman and is capable of playing left field if needed. But he’ll likely share time with Ty France at first base until Evan White (hip flexor strain) returns from the injured list. White is starting a rehab assignment on Thursday night with Class AAA Tacoma.
“He’s a natural first baseman, but he has played the outfield as well,” manager Scott Servais said pregame. “He’s got a good throwing arm. He’s a good defender. Obviously, he’s a left-handed bat and we are overloaded with left-handed bats right now. But that’s just where we’re at this moment in time. We’ll get some guys healthy, balance it out here soon.”
In many ways, Bauers is a left-handed hitting version of White. Both were heralded prospects that have yet to reach their hitting potential.
“It takes some players longer to figure it out the big-league level,” Servais said. “Sometimes it’s a (different) coach or it’s just being in a different uniform that can help somehow flip the switch and allows that player to take off and relax. It happens to multiple players every year in our game. It happened to me in my career. You get an opportunity to play a little bit people look at you a little bit differently. They see it through a different lens and maybe they can unlock something and hopefully that’s what we can do with Jake.”
Coming up in the Rays system, Bauers, a seventh-round pick by the Padres in the 2013 draft of Marina High in Huntington Beach, California, was rated as the No. 45 overall prospect in baseball in 2018 by Baseball America and the No. 75 prospect in 2017. He was projected to have plus-power potential with the possibility for a decent batting average due to his swing decisions and high contact rate. But like many prospects, he had swing and miss issues early at the MLB level, striking out in 26% of his at-bats.
“This is the game’s highest level,” he said. “It’s not easy. It’s never easy. And I think there’s still a lot of my game that I haven’t really figured out yet, or I haven’t figured out how to necessarily translate it to the big-league level. So I’m just excited to get another opportunity to kind of do that here. I think it’s gonna work out well.”
Bauers ended up in Cleveland as part of a three-team trade that also involved the Mariners. The Rays sent him to Cleveland for infielder Yandy Diaz and right-handed pitcher Cole Sulser. Tampa sent cash to the Mariners while Seattle acquired designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion and a competitive balance B pick, where they selected prospect Isaiah Campbell. The Mariners traded Carlos Santana to Cleveland.
Bauers spent the entire 2020 season at Cleveland’s alternative training site, working on swing changes implemented after the 2019 season. With Bauers being out of minor league options and roster moves needed, Cleveland decided to part ways.