The six free agents who received the qualifying offer this offseason have until next Wednesday (Nov. 11) to accept or reject the $18.9 million contract, but right-hander Trevor Bauer isn’t waiting that long. His agent, Rachel Luba, announced Bauer has rejected the qualifying offer on Wednesday afternoon.

Here is the announcement. Luba notes Bauer has not closed the door on returning to the Cincinnati Reds:

The qualifying offer is a one-year contract set at the average of the top 125 salaries in the sport. Players who reject the qualifying offer are attached to draft-pick compensation. If Bauer signs with another team, the Reds will receive a draft pick before Competitive Balance Round A if the contract is worth $50 million or more, otherwise the pick will be after Competitive Balance Round B.

Bauer, 30 in January, has previously said he will only sign one-year contracts once he becomes a free agent, but he recently walked back those comments, saying he is open to any offer, including offers from teams in Japan. It is extremely unlikely Bauer will go overseas, however. The highest-paid player in Japan made approximately $6 million in 2020. The money is far better in MLB.

Our R.J. Anderson ranked Bauer as the best pitcher in the free agent market and the third-best player overall, behind only George Springer and J.T. Realmuto. He is a snippet of R.J.’s write-up:

Bauer has long had the stuff and, according to his press clippings, the intelligence to be a frontline starter. He’s now put together the results supporting that notion in two of the past three seasons. Can he keep it up? That’s one of a few questions teams will have to answer, beginning with how he improved his spin rate just a few years after implying it was possible only through the use of substances. Another one is whether he’s compatible on a long-term deal. Bauer fell out of favor in both Arizona and Cleveland, and he hasn’t always covered himself in glory on social media. Weather changes moods just as sure as Sturgill changes words; if Bauer wants to follow suit, changing his perception into a staff leader in every sense of the term, then he’ll need to do more than continue to pitch well.

Because of pandemic-related penny-pinching, Bauer is unlikely to land a contract on par with Gerrit Cole (nine years, $324 million) or Stephen Strasburg (seven years, $245 million). FanGraphs crowdsourcing projects a three-year deal worth $29 million per year for Bauer. I think five years is possible. If he indeed takes one year, it could come in as high as $35 million. Maybe more.

The Reds currently have approximately $103 million on the books for nine players next season, plus $21.2 million in projected arbitration salaries for another nine players. Last year’s $166 million full season payroll would’ve been a franchise record, and with payrolls set to come down following the pandemic, it’s unclear whether Cincinnati can afford to retain Bauer.

As things stand, the club’s current rotation depth chart looks something like this:

  1. RHP Sonny Gray
  2. RHP Luis Castillo
  3. RHP Tyler Mahle
  4. LHP Wade Miley
  5. RHP Tejay Antone
  6. RHP Michael Lorenzen
  7. RHP Tony Santillan

Miley did not pitch well this past season and Antone made four spot starts while really thriving as a multi-inning reliever. Lorenzen did start two games this year but has been a short reliever most of his career. If they can’t retain Bauer, the Reds figure to bring in a cheaper free agent starter to strengthen the back of the rotation.

Bauer went 5-4 with a 1.73 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 73 innings during the 60-game regular season. He also struck out 12 in 7 2/3 shutout innings in his Wild Card Series start against the Braves. Bauer is an NL Cy Young finalist and perhaps the favorite to win this year’s award.

Realmuto, Springer, Kevin Gausman, DJ LeMahieu, and Marcus Stroman are the other five free agents who received a qualifying offer this offseason.

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