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Tigers make first major offensive addition in shortstop Javier Báez

Báez’s plate discipline is a concern, but he offers several other things that make him a worthwhile investment for Detroit

MLB: New York Mets at Atlanta Braves Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Contract negotiations between the Detroit Tigers and free agent shortstop Javier Baez heated up during the night and came to a fruitful conclusion on Tuesday morning: the talented, yet volatile infielder is getting a whopping $140 million for the next six years. The deal reportedly contains an opt-out clause.

That contract equals to $23.3 million per season: the New York Mets, the team which Baez played with during the second half of the 2021 campaign, were interested in bringing him back, but not at that price.

It was a logical move by the Tigers, as they had already signed pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez and needed to address the lineup, too. They were linked to top shortstop Carlos Correa before free agency started, but said they weren’t willing to spend $300 million on a single player with so many needs all over the roster. With Corey Seager signing a $325 million deal with the Texas Rangers on Monday, it’s clear that the former Houston Astros’ star will ask for even more than that.

The Baez signing likely takes the Tigers out of the running for Correa or any other top shortstop. The soon-to-be 29-year-old Baez is a sizable upgrade at the position for Detroit, as he is a career .264/.307/.477 hitter with power, speed, and some excellent defense.

During his eight-year MLB tenure, plate discipline has held him back to the point that he is only a slightly above-average offensive performer, with a 103 wRC+, despite multiple seasons over 25 home runs and a couple above 30.

Baez has a career 4.8 percent walk rate, which doesn’t look good compared to his 29.3 percent strikeout rate. His .212 career ISO, his speed, athleticism, and his very good glove (46 career DRS at shortstop, 16 at second base, 7 at third base) are the elements that make him an above-average player and a solid investment for Detroit.

Speaking of plate discipline, Baez made some in-season gains, when he switched teams. Before the deadline, he slashed .248/.292/.484 with a 4.2 walk rate and a 102 wRC+ with the Chicago Cubs. Then, he was traded to the Mets and was much better, at .299/.371/.515, with a 7.0 percent walk rate and a 143 wRC+.

Digging deeper, he had about the same O-Swing% (46.5 percent in Chicago, 46.7 percent in New York) but swung less with the Mets (55.5 percent Swing%, compared to 57.5 percent with the Cubs) and had marginal gains in swinging strike rate (21.7 percent with CHC vs. 20.8 percent with the NYM). CSW (32.6 percent in the Windy City against 30.4 percent in the Big Apple) was perhaps his biggest improvement. It remains to be seen if these numbers can still trend in the right direction with Detroit or if they will revert back to what he showed in Chicago all these years.

Overall, Baez had an impressive 2021 season, even if his plate discipline numbers aren’t ideal. Between the two clubs, he slashed .265/.319/.494 with a 116 wRC+, 31 home runs, 80 runs, 81 RBI, and 18 stolen bases. He achieved 3.6 fWAR in just 138 games, so he could have eclipsed the 4.0 barrier had he played the whole campaign.

That’s about who he is at this point, and that’s not bad at all for the surging Tigers: a 4-win shortstop is a nice addition for their project, even if he is not exactly cheap. Baez will probably be hitting in the middle of the Tigers for years to come, together with Spencer Torkelson, Riley Greene, Akil Baddoo, Robbie Grossman, and any other additions they may bring this offseason.

The Tigers are still far from the Chicago White Sox, but they are taking a few steps to close the gap as soon as 2022.

Andrés Chávez loves the game of baseball and writes about it at Beyond the Box Score, Pinstripe Alley, and other sites. He is on Twitter as @andres_chavez13