TODAY: The Cubs’ offer was slightly lower than Olney’s figure, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman (Twitter link), sitting somewhere between $160MM to $170MM.
APRIL 18: The status of extension talks between the Cubs and each of Javier Báez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo has been one of the biggest stories surrounding the team over the past couple years. There were some public discussions between the Cubs and Báez during the 2019-20 offseason, and Buster Olney of ESPN now sheds light on those discussions.
The Cubs offered Báez an extension “in the range of $180MM” after the 2019 season, Olney reports. Of course, the two-time All-Star declined that proposal and the sides haven’t yet managed to come to terms on a multi-year deal. The Cubs and Báez ultimately settled on a $10MM salary to avoid arbitration in 2020 (prior to proration) and agreed on an $11.65MM deal for 2021 this past offseason.
There are plenty of obstacles standing in the way of Báez securing such a lofty deal at this point. Revenue losses due to the intervening COVID-19 pandemic affected plenty of teams’ willingness to spend this past winter, the Cubs chief among them. Chicago opened 2021 with an estimated payroll just shy of $148MM, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, far below their $203MM outlay in the season before the pandemic. Shedding salary was no doubt a factor in the decision to trade Yu Darvish to the Padres in a deal with very little recent precedent.
Even more significantly, though, Báez’s personal production has cratered since that offseason. At the time of the reported offer, the star shortstop was coming off a two-year run in which he’d hit .286/.321/.544 (123 wRC+) while playing high-end defense. He’d earned All-Star selections in both 2018 and 2019 and finished as the National League MVP runner-up in the first of those years. It’s easy to see why the Cubs felt comfortable investing in Báez long-term and why the player was willing to bet on himself continuing to perform at an elite level.
That’s not what’s happened, at least to this point. Over the past two years, Báez is hitting just .201/.241/.376 in 291 plate appearances. Controlling the strike zone has never been his calling card, but Báez’s 2.7% walk rate and 34.4% strikeout rate in that time are untenable figures. The 28-year-old has continued to play a strong shortstop, but his 63 wRC+ is fourth-worst among the 190 players to take at least 200 plate appearances over the last two years.
There had been some hope Báez could rebound from his 2020 struggles in a longer, more normal season. His bottom line results have indeed been better (albeit still below-average) thanks to the four home runs he’s popped. But Báez’s underlying process metrics are equally or more concerning. His 44.6% strikeout rate is up twelve points relative to last season, while his walks have fallen even further.
Most concerning, Báez has made contact on less than half his swings (48.7%) in this season’s early going. For reference, he connected on a little more than two-thirds of his cuts during his peak years, and even made contact at a 64.2% clip last year. Only Sam Hilliard has a lower contact rate among the 259 players with 30+ plate appearances, with every other hitter in the league putting the bat on the ball at least 54.9% of the time.
There’s plenty of time for Báez to right the ship, but he’ll need to make significantly more contact in the coming months if he’s to secure a massive deal from the Cubs or any other team. The two sides remain in contact, with Báez reiterating in February he hopes to work out an extension with Chicago rather than go elsewhere in free agency.