2020 was a forgettable year for a lot of players, Javier Báez being one of them. Over just 59 games Báez managed just a 55 wRC+ due to a pathetically anemic .203/.238/.360 slash line. It was a forgettable performance for a forgettable Cubs team.
This past season Báez managed to stay afloat for the first 90 games, and then following his trade to New York, really made a splash. He spent two-thirds of the season on the NorthSide of Chicago, where he managed a 102 wRC+, improving his slash line to .248/.292/.484 with 22 home runs. It was nothing exceptional, but for an above average middle-infielder, completely acceptable.
Upon his arrival in New York, Báez’ numbers surged. He increased his walk rate from 4.2 percent with the Cubs to 7 percent with the Mets. He kept up the power pace, hitting nine home runs in just 47 games (annualized to around 30 in a season). He also slashed his strikeout rate from an unpalatable 36.3 percent with the Cubs this season to 28.5 percent with the Mets.
Teams know exactly what they’re going to get with Báez. They’re going to get 30+ home runs, minimal walks, huge strikeout numbers (he led the league in chase rate this past season), and pretty good infield defense. Báez is not of the same caliber as Carlos Correa and Corey Seager, who lead the free agent class at shortstop this hot stove season, but he is projected as a 2-3 win player who at the age of 28, should have plenty of solid years in front of him.
Báez is good for a dazzling defensive play every so often, and his baserunning and general baseball instincts are as sharp as any player in the game.
If teams view 2020 as the anomaly, and focus on Báez holistically over the last few years, he can be included in the same class as Correa and Seager, and without the injury question markets.
In 2018, Báez posted a 5.4 fWAR, in 2019 a 4.3 fWAR and in 2021 a 3.6 fWAR. In total, he has been more productive since 2018. Compared to his 13.3 fWAR in that stretch, Correa posted 11.3 wins, and Seager posted a 9.3 fWAR. It does make you wonder why Correa and Seager are viewed as the obvious answers at shortstop with Báez likely to command a fraction of the year at a fraction of the cost. Correa is only a year younger than both Seager and Báez and it’s anticipated he’ll get an eight or nine year deal (Seager himself likely to command a seven or eight year deal).
If a team can sign Báez to half the years at 2/3s of the average annual value, those saved dollars may be better used elsewhere on the roster, especially with a cash-rich team that is on the upswing.
Thinking about teams that have the money to spend on a front-loaded AAV contract, the Mariners immediately come to mind. Seattle likely would have made the playoffs if they had Báez last year, for if it was for just part of the season.
The Tigers are publicly seeking a shortstop, and they’ve been linked to every free agent shortstop available. If Detroit is skittish to offer Correa a quarter-billion dollar deal, Báez would be a perfectly suitable option.
The Mets would benefit from signing Báez and moving him to second base, since Francisco Lindor is their full-time, longer-term shortstop. Without a President of Baseball Operations, the Mets may be handicapped against his other suitors, particularly if the market moves quickly in December, as some have expected.
The White Sox could be a dark-horse threat to sign Báez as he’d slide into second base nicely as part of the up-the-middle combo with shortstop Tim Anderson. Chicago is likely also looking at Trevor Story to fill that gap.
Figuring the Yankees, Dodgers, and Astros are likely to go for the biggest splashes of Correa and Seager, there are still plenty of suitors for a multi-position player of Báez skillset.