Cubs star Javier Baez hasn’t been shy about publicly discussing his contract talks with the Cubs, and that trend continued this week as the two-time All-Star told ESPN’s Marly Rivera that extension talks with the team have been on hold since the league shut down in mid-March. Both sides decided to “leave it there,” with the 2020 season on indefinite hold, although the 27-year-old made clear that he still hopes to reach an agreement at some point.
Transactions have halted and rosters frozen during the hiatus, and extension talks were reportedly placed on hold as well. Of course, that’s a tough policy to enforce and one that could conceivably be circumvented so long as a new deal wasn’t announced or reported until the limitations were lifted. It seems that has not been the case, despite Baez’s emphasis on what a “blessing” it’d be to spend his whole career with one team and the fact that neither party feels the need to put a deadline on talks. On the other hand, Baez is keenly aware of the business side of the game and did discuss the possibility of playing with multiple teams in his chat with Rivera. The two also discussed his charitable works in Puerto Rico during the shutdown and Baez’s workouts with his brother-in-law: Twins righty Jose Berrios. Cubs fans will want to take a full look for the full breadth of his comments.
The Cubs currently control Baez through the 2021 season, after which he’ll join a historically strong class of free-agent shortstops. He and the Cubs agreed to a $10MM salary for the 2020 season over the winter, although the best-case scenario for him is now that he’d receive a prorated portion of that sum (dependent on how many games are able to be played in a shortened season). He’ll have one more trip through arbitration on the horizon, barring an agreement on a new deal.
A Baez extension would require a change of trajectory for a Cubs organization that has become increasingly averse to spending over the past two seasons. It’s easy to envision Baez, a potential face of the franchise for the better part of the next decade, as an exception to that philosophy, but it’s hard not to notice the team’s decrease in spending. Craig Kimbrel was signed last summer, but only after a prolonged stretch on the restricted list for Ben Zobrist unexpectedly opened up some funds. Chicago also brokered extensions for Kyle Hendricks (four years, $55.5MM) and David Bote (five years, $15MM) in Spring Training 2019, but a Baez deal wouldn’t be in the same stratosphere as those two deals. Outside of those deals, the Cubs have spent just over $14MM in free agency dating back to October 2018.
That said, the Cubs will also have Jon Lester, Tyler Chatwood, Jose Quintana, Daniel Descalso, Steven Souza Jr. and Jeremy Jeffress come off the books this coming winter. They had been slated to enter the season with about $214MM worth of luxury-tax commitments on the books, but that number will crater to $93MM next year (not including sizable arbitration raises for Baez, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras). It’s also perhaps telling while each of Bryant, Schwarber and Contreras saw his name kicked about the rumor circuit this past offseason — Bryant in particular — there were little to no such rumblings regarding Baez.
Whenever talks are able to resume, they’ll take place against the backdrop of sizable revenue losses for teams throughout the league — a reality that could make it more difficult for the two parties (or any two parties) to agree on a potential price point. That cuts both ways, as while the Cubs may not want to pay as much as they would have with an uninterrupted revenue stream, Baez (and other players set to hit free agency in the next couple of years) could be wary about going out into the open market at a time when owners are looking to recoup their losses. The expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement in December 2021 only further muddies the water, making it nearly impossible to predict just how contract negotiations of any type will play out in the foreseeable future.