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Would Indians trade Trevor Bauer in middle of pennant race?

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Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported yesterday that he expects the Indians to be “aggressive listeners” on Trevor Bauer leading up to the trade deadline.

Which is weird because, last I checked, the Indians had cut the Twins AL Central lead in half to a manageable 5.5 games and, at the moment, are in playoff position as the second Wild Card team in the American League. Bauer has struggled a bit in the first half, and he remains somewhat inconsistent, but he has slowly begun to right the ship, allowing one or zero runs in four of his last six starts. When on, Bauer is one of the more dominating starters in the game. Would a team with serious playoff aspirations actually deal their best healthy starter at the deadline?

The argument for “yes,” as explained by Rosenthal, is that (a) Bauer is expected to leave via free agency after the 2020 season; (b) the Indians expect to get Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar and, possibly, Carlos Carrasco back in the second half; and (c) if they deal Bauer they can get some offense that will help them stay in and, possibly, better compete for that 2019 playoff spot.

The argument for “no, that’s insane” is that (a) a guy leaving after 2020 is not exactly gone yet, so saying you need to flip him now is disingenuous; (b) maybe Kluber comes back and is effective down the stretch but you CANNOT count on Danny Salazar given his injury history or Carlos Carrasco, who literally has cancer, to be your horse in a playoff race. It’s also worth asking what kind of offensive player would be worth the loss of Bauer. Rosenthal mentions that the Yankees are scouting Bauer, but what does that get Cleveland? Maybe the return of Clint Frazier? I like him long-term, but he is not going to be as valuable to the Indians in 2019 as Bauer would be.

Which makes me think that if this speculation actually has legs and the Indians actually trade Bauer, it’s a white flag trade. A surrender. A cost-savings measure, pure and simple. And a profoundly cynical one at that given that the Indians are in win-now mode, are actually winning now, and seem to be in very good position to at least win the Wild Card and, quite possibly, catch the currently-fading Twins for the division crown.

If the Tribe trades one of their best players in those circumstances, why would any fan want to support this team going forward?

MLB report blames seam height, not juiced balls, for 2019 home run surge

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SAN DIEGO — This morning Major League Baseball released a report from a committee of scientists tasked with studying baseballs and the home run surge from 2019. Their verdict: that manufacturing variation leading to inconsistent seam height — not any intentional act taken to “juice” baseballs — is the reason for last year’s power explosion.

There were 6,776 home runs hit during the regular season, which shattered the previous record, set in 2017, by nearly 11 percent. Numerous players around the league suspected or assumed that the league, which owns the ball manufacturer, Rawlings, had intentionally juiced the baseball to promote offense. The committee concluded in the report that “no evidence was found that changes in baseball performance were due to anything intentional on the part of Rawlings or MLB and were likely due to manufacturing variability.”

That conclusion would appear to only be partially accurate.

Dr. Meredith Wills, an astrophysicist who has been conducting her own research on baseballs and the home run explosion, published her own work on all of this in The Athletic last June. Wills concluded that, based on her examination of baseball seams and seam height, a key part of the manufacturing process — the drying of damp, finished baseballs after assembly is complete — likely did change.

Specifically, she concluded that seam height and decreased bulging of baseballs which led to less aerodynamic drag and farther ball flight was likely the result of Rawlings using heaters to dry balls, as opposed to the traditional air-drying, allowing them to produce more balls in a shorter period of time. Wills told NBC Sports this morning that she suspects Rawlings did this because many more balls were needed due to Major League Baseball mandating that Triple-A adopt the major league ball for the 2019 season.

As such, the key word in this morning’s report is “intentional.” Wills:

“The decrease in drag was very likely unintentional, but the change in the drying process would be intentional. No, they didn’t intend to juice the ball, but yes, they did make an intentional change to the manufacturing process. It was not ‘manufacturing variability’ it was deliberate process improvement to accommodate higher demand. ‘Variability’ makes it sound like it’s random or a mistake. It was not.”

There is also the matter of the decrease in ball flight and home runs observed — and confirmed by today’s report — in the 2019 postseason.

MLB’s expert panel basically punts on any explanations for the variation, noting small sample size and no other apparent explanation. As such, the matter for the immediate change in the home run rate and fly ball distance the moment we moved from September to October baseball is not clear. Wills is continuing her research on 2019 postseason game balls — a matter about which there has already been no small amount of controversy of late — and expects to publish her results soon.

There will be a press conference regarding the study here at the Winter Meetings at 1PM Eastern time today. NBC Sports will be at that press conference. NBC Sports has a good number of followup questions.