If you had thoughts or dreams of Javier Baez returning to Chicago, think again. Baez is set to become a member of the Detroit Tigers. Rumors about a potential deal emerged Monday night. The deal isn’t official yet, but from all accounts, Baez is heading to Detroit on a $140 million deal spanning six seasons.
Mark Feinsand first reported the full contract details. However, Buster Olney reported the deal could contain an opt-out, which could potentially alter the contract's length.
Interestingly enough, El Mago’s deal comes short of what the Cubs reportedly offered him before the 2020 season. According to Buster Olney, the Cubs offered Baez an extension in the $180 million range.
Part of the reason why Baez ultimately got less than he was offered initially is because of his on-field performance tailing off over the last couple of years. Some of those underlying issues began to rear their ugly head more often. Baez’s strikeout rate increased every year since the Cubs’ offer. On the other hand, maybe the contract negotiations before the 2020 season led to some of his struggles. Struggles that not only he had, but Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo shared as well.
From the beginning of 2020 to the time the Cubs traded him to the New York Mets at the deadline, Baez slashed .230/.270/.434 with 30 home runs and 89 RBIs. He also struck out 34.5 percent of the time during that span, which led to an incredibly low on-base percentage.
Of course, with all of his flaws, there’s a reason Baez received the contract he did, even if it’s less than the Cubs offered him. Baez creates magic on the basepaths and on defense. This offseason, the Tigers have been making moves, and Javy is a solid addition to an up-and-coming young nucleus. I wonder how much of his struggles were contract-based because we saw the gains he made at the plate, cutting his strikeout rate down under 30 percent after his first two seasons in the league.
Also, after a slow start with the Mets, Baez finished the season strong. In 47 games played, he slashed .299/.371/.515 (.886 OPS) with nine homers and 22 driven in. The strikeout rate was high, as is usually the case with Baez, but it was under 30 percent (28.4 percent to be exact). After souring on Baez early on, many Mets fans hoped the team would bring him back.
Moving forward, that’s what Baez needs to keep his strikeout rate under 30 percent and hit for power in order to live up to the contract in Detroit. His glove is excellent. Sometimes he makes boneheaded plays, but he more than makes up for it with unimaginable ones. The power production has always been there, and that’s something Detroit can bank on. However, hitting in Detroit, Baez’s home run numbers will likely come down. We saw how happy Nicholas Castellanos was to leave Comerica Park, as it’s not exactly a hitter-friendly place to play.
Aside from his performance, this is one of the most stacked shortstop free agent classes we’ve seen in years. The Texas Rangers signed Corey Seager to a 10-year, $325 million deal and Marcus Semien (who can play both 2B and SS) to a seven-year, $175 million contract. Trevor Story is still on the open market, and he more than likely will get more money than Baez. The biggest fish in the shortstop pond, Carlos Correa, remains unsigned. Undoubtedly, Correa will fetch more than Baez.
The biggest takeaway from this is Jed Hoyer. Fans are becoming impatient with his lack of movement thus far this offseason. (It’s me, I’m a fan). As impatient as we are, the Cubs didn’t overspend in this case. We have to take him for his word. Hoyer and Theo Epstein offered Baez a competitive deal that held up well in the open market, which he told us would be the case. They got this one right. We have to hold them accountable, and I’m keeping score—tally one point for Jed.