The Cubs have initiated discussions with star shortstop Javier Baez about a contract extension, per Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times (via Twitter). The course of these early-offseason negotiations could play a role in shaping the remainder of the organization’s winter roster efforts, Wittenmyer adds.
It isn’t surprising to learn that Baez is a target for a long-term deal. His play on the field made that a more or less foregone conclusion. But the timing is interesting, less so because of Baez himself than because of the potential ramifications. It isn’t as if teams never explore deals at this time of year, though it’s more common to see extensions negotiated in earnest during Spring Training.
Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said recently that the team “had a stable core for five years” but is “going to have change” this winter. (Via Jon Heyman of MLB Network, on Twitter.) That obviously didn’t mean that the Chicago org was planning to blow things up, but it certainly suggests that a few roster fixtures could potentially be dangled in trade.
It doesn’t require much in the way of reading between the lines to see that the Baez talks could potentially be rather important. Getting something done with the flashy performer might make it easier for the Cubs to swing a blockbuster deal involving other key assets. Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, and Kyle Schwarber are among the notable names that have been kicked around as speculative possibilities, though it’s unclear which if any will be seriously dangled in trade talks — let alone just what it’d take for the Cubs to part with one or more such players.
As for Baez, he projects to earn a $9.3MM salary in his second-to-last season of arbitration eligibility. He played last year for $5.2MM, a salary that fell well shy of his projected value. Regardless, Baez has already secured significant earnings so won’t be desperate to make a deal. And he’s close enough to free agency that he will have solid leverage to bring into talks. Soon to turn 27, Baez has a good number of youthful seasons still on offer.
Talks between the Cubs and Baez’s reps at Wasserman will surely be interesting. Baez is a tough player to value in some respects, if only because he succeeds against the grain of today’s game. Baez walked just 5.0% of the time last year while turning in a 27.8% strikeout rate, but (as usual) logged a monster .345 BABIP that allowed him to carry a .281/.316/.531 batting line (114 wRC+). With glovework and baserunning included, it was a 4.4 fWAR/4.8 rWAR campaign.
The Cubs obviously believe Baez can continue to convert on his elite bat speed and other physical tools. But they’ll surely also point out some of the demerits in his game in talking about a new contract. And it’s possible the team will want to avoid taking a deal too deep into Baez’s thirties. It’ll be interesting to see what the sides settle at if they’re able to agree to terms. But it could be even more interesting to see what happens to the Cubs’ winter plans if they fail to gain traction in talks to lock down Baez for the long haul.