Javier Baez wants to be a hit for Cubs beyond 2021

Javier Baez wants to be a hit for Cubs beyond 2021

Good morning, frents!

Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy held a news conference on Tuesday and I'd give you some takeaways except, well, there really weren't any. Without being able to even mention Deshaun Watson or Russell Wilson — league rules — their sessions continue to put the zzzzzzzs in Zoom.

Instead, enjoy David Brown's second turn on Midway Minute with his look at Javy Baez's attempt to get right in 2021.  

Tuesday's results
Illinois 76, Michigan 53
Cubs 3, Royals 2
Sox 5, Rangers 5 (6)
Marquette at DePaul (TBA, FS1)

Today's schedule
Bulls at Pelicans (7, NBCSCH)
Maryland at N’Western (8, BTN)
Mariners at Cubs (2, ESPN)
Sox at Royals (2, no TV)

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Running it back with Javy

By David Brown

So Cubs fans have two big questions about shortstop Javier Baez as we head into the 2021 season.

  1. After his offensive numbers took a dive in the pandemic-shortened season, will his bat bounce back?
  2. Will he be a member of the Cubs after this season?

There is a very good chance the answer to question No. 1 is "yes."

The second question? Well, that depends on Cubs ownership.

Baez sounded confident about his bat for 2021 when he talked to reporters last week on a video call. What will be different? A certain number of fans are expected to be allowed at ballparks, most of which were empty for the 60-game season in 2020 because of COVID-related restrictions.

Baez said the empty ballparks were "the worst, to be honest. It was worse than facing a pitcher in spring training on the back field. I didn’t like it at all."

Another difference for the man they call El Mago: MLB says tablets will again be allowed in dugouts so players can instantly analyze their previous plate appearance. Those tools weren't allowed in 2020 in the wake of the Houston Astros (and others) exploiting the technology to cheat.

"I don't want to talk about last year," Baez said. "It was frustrating to me, it was frustrating to a lot of players."

We should cut Baez some slack. Including defense, he was the Cubs' best position player from 2018-2019.

But Baez, echoing what many other players said and still more believed, said he never felt right about the 2020 season, when he hit .203 with a .599 OPS in 59 games. It was his worst showing at the plate since his rookie season.

But as Baez reminds everyone, it was only 59 games.

"It was two months of baseball," Baez said. "I felt in a rush. I felt like I didn't have time to make adjustments."

Conversely, his play on defense did not appear to suffer. He's usually a plus performer in the field and Baez won his first career Gold Glove in 2019. Baez says having back the energy of fans, along with the quick access to video, will help him revert to his best self at the plate again.

“I was not mentally ready for what happened last year,” Baez said. “... Last year offensively was tough for me and this year now that we’ve got the video, I’ve got that comfort, it’s going to be great for me.”

Baez is not the only player to note the lack of video hurting his preparation, or to bemoan the strangeness of playing in empty ballparks. Factors related to the pandemic have affected different players in different ways, no matter if they got sick with the virus or not.

If a given player didn't produce in 2020, give them a coronavirus mulligan. Especially if they have produced before. Note the performance of Anthony Rizzo, who slugged .414 in the feeblest season at the plate in his career. (Speaking of players whose contract expires at the end of the 2021 season.)

So that gets us to the end of 2021.

Assuming that society continues to trend healthy overall, and we have a full MLB season with fans in the stands and the Cubs compete for another NL Central title, what will the Cubs do with Baez?

Baez says he wants to stay, but it also appears he's headed toward free agency this fall, unless the Cubs are being super-sneaky about a contract extension. Either way, the timing is good for the Cubs to get a deal and bad for Baez to land a mega-deal. The super free-agent class at shortstop for 2022 is unprecedented, with Francisco Lindor of the Mets, Corey Seager of the Dodgers, Trevor Story of the Rockies and Carlos Correa of the Astros leading the way. (Imagine Felix Fermin trying to get a major league job these days.)

More good news for the Cubs: Supply and demand is on their side. Not that many teams need to spend big on a new shortstop, and only a few seem willing to spend on huge free-agent contracts of any kind right now. It’s a little collusion-y out there! Plus, it would take a big reversal for teams like Detroit, Cleveland, Baltimore, Seattle, Texas and Arizona to rejoin the spending crowd.

Still more good news (for the Cubs): The contract recently signed by Fernando Tatis does not escalate things, at least regarding free agency. Its average annual value of just under $25 million is what you wanted to see, if you're a club, even if the Tatis deal is beholden to some different circumstances. It's hard to see anything for the shortstop group higher than $25 million per season. That makes Baez affordable. It's a matter of want. Do the Cubs want to spend? They haven't wanted to spend much lately, aside from smaller deals for Joc Pederson and Jake Arrieta.

The Cubs window for winning another World Series with what’s left of the 2016 group remains open for now. Dealing away Yu Darvish didn't help that. It figures, though, that Darvish's money is earmarked for somebody else. Baez is a pretty good somebody else. The Rickettses can't go full-metal austerity on us forever, can they?

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Illinois pounds Michigan without Ayo

The Illini were without Ayo Dosunmu for their third straight game, but it again didn't matter. Illinois completely rolled the second-ranked Wolverines on their home floor to strengthen its bid for a No. 1 seed. It was the highest-ranked road win in franchise history and the team's 10th win in its last 11 games. Trent Frazier led Illinois scorers with 22 while Andre Curbelo had 17.

Michigan is still likely to win the Big Ten regular season title with just one win over Michigan State in the next two games. And while Illini fans might be right to complain that the Wolverines will take that honor by virtue of winning percentage, they should be much more pleased with the depth that could legitimately win Illinois its first national title.

Spring training

Sox 5, Rangers 5

Another day, another shortened game that ended in a tie. But this one featured a three-run homer by Andrew Vaughn. So that was good. It also featured the Rangers calling an early end to an inning just as Jose Abreu was coming up to bat with the bases loaded. So that was bad. Tony La Russa said he heard the booing fans and will aim to do right by the crowd the rest of spring.

  • Lucas Giolito struck out four over two innings, but also gave up a homer to Ronald Guzman in his first spring start.

Cubs 3, Royals 2

Rafael Ortega's three-run double in the fourth was all the scoring the Cubs needed in a game that was short on regulars. Kris Bryant got his first two plate appearances, striking out and walking before calling it a day. Adbert Alzolay pitched a clean first inning in Boog Sciambi's first game on the mike for Marquee.

  1. Shannon Ryan on the 26 long years that Brad Underwood put in at smaller schools before his moment at U of I. Tribune
  2. "The Last Dance" increased interest in people wanting to tour Michael Jordan's mansion — mostly from people who'd never be able to afford the place. Sportico
  3. There was a lot of good stuff on Buddy Ryan and the Bears defense in this look at the 1984 DVOA numbers. Football Outsiders
  4. Elias Schuster is still preaching patience with Wendell Carter, Jr. Bleacher Nation
  5. The Fire are redesigning their logo (yes, again) and Patrick McCraney is getting an inside look at the process. Hot Time in Old Town

Finally, Zach LaVine is going to give the 3-point contest another go, but maybe the NBA should see what Jacob Grandison is up to this weekend...

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