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javier baez aflJavier Baez is still a shortstop.

That may not sound like a piece worth noting, but with Baez tearing up High-A and AA last year, and on the doorstep of the big leagues within the next 12 months, Baez’s long-term position has become a salient and immediate question.

Baez clearly remains a shortstop in the Cubs’ eyes, as confirmed both by President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and Scouting and by Player Development Chief Jason McLeod within the last week. They now believe - I guess without any lingering reservations – that Baez can be a shortstop in the big leagues. That wasn’t something you could confidently say just one year ago.

If Baez is to remain at shortstop in the near-term, and if he could truly play adequate defense at the position in the big leagues, the upcoming decision on how to deal with incumbent shortstop Starlin Castro and Baez becomes much more difficult.

Baez unquestionably offers more value at shortstop than at any other position – at shortstop, it’s virtually impossible to find a bat like his (although a wave of fantastic shortstop prospects – Xander Bogaerts, Addison Russell, and Franscio Lidnor among them). And Baez’s bat, if it continues to develop, projects to be much more valuable than Castro’s. On the other hand, the Cubs have to decide which of the two can play a more effective defensive shortstop *and* a more effective defensive second base (which is where Baez is expected to get some work in Spring Training, and where McLeod hinted that Baez could go if Castro is still around when Baez is ready). It’s possible that one of the two might be only better at shortstop, but miles better at second base. In that situation, particularly if that guy is Castro, you’d really have to think putting Baez at shortstop (because of the bat), even if he’s technically the inferior defensive shortstop.

There’s still a lot that has to happen before this is a serious issue – Baez will have to adjust to AAA and play well there, and continue to improve defensively at shortstop, as the Cubs are projecting – but it makes you wonder if the front office is a little salty about Castro’s down 2013 season. If Castro had been effective, the Cubs would have the option of trading Castro for a haul, and opening up shortstop in the long-term for Baez. As it stands, Castro isn’t going to entice prospective buyers to the extent you’d want to see before shipping him off for other pieces. For now, particularly given his age and contract, it seems wiser to hang onto Castro for the time being, and work out any emerging positional issues as Baez forces them.

Hopefully Baez crushes it at AAA Iowa and improves even further defensively at shortstop, while Castro does the same at the big league level, and this tricky discussion becomes all the more tricky in June and July.

  • http://thenewenthusiast.com dw8

    http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/12/19/starlin-castro-has-3-6-million-seized-in-a-legal-dispute/

    No indication that Commander Bob’s editorial on the story holds any water.

  • Serious Cubs Fan

    My guess is that Mcleod, Hoyer and Theo are just saying Baez can stay at SS openly to keep Baez’s value up. I know they probably plan on trading him but you still never want to devalue your player. I’ve seen Baez play quite a bit, and he really isn’t that great of a SS. He’s more or less average to below average defensive, IMO. He doesn’t have the range of Castro but his hands are better and has quicker reflexes. I think he could play at SS but he would be great over there

    • Serious Cubs Fan

      Probably don’t plan on trading him*

    • Robert

      Why only compare Baez to Castro,
      Compare him to Barney.

      • Local BleacherBum

        Not much comparison from Baez to Barney? Baez has a stronger arm, worse range at SS. The bats are on two different worlds of talent. barney makes more frequent contact then Baez. More swing and miss with baez. But the when Baez makes contact with the ball its special. The noise is so distinct. Both of their plate disciplines probably will never be top notch.

      • http://gameagame Brandon

        Thats what i was thinking. If Baez is that good at ss, wouldnt Castro project into an above quality second baseman…good bye Barney.

    • Jay

      Considering the vast majority of Castro’s errors are on throws, I would think a move to second would fix that. His hands and range are good.

      • Mike W

        Based on last years stats id much rather have Castro at SS then Baez. Baez last year committed 1 error for every 8 attempts while Castro committed 1 error for every 19 attempts. Fielding percentage favors Castro .967% to Baez .932%. Putouts was the only thing both really had in common. Castro 238, Baez 232 while having less attempts then Castro. I would much rather see Baez at 2nd base then anywhere else in the infield. If he has range to play SS he should be like Barney and flipped over to play 2nd. Baez reminds me of Dan Uggla with his power and could be an All-Star 2nd baseman for years. Bye bye to Brandon Phillips, cant stand that guy. Cubs have too many young 3rd basemen in their farm system to convert another infielder to being a 3rd basemen. Give Bryant, Olt and Villanueva a chance at 3rd before Baez.

        • gocatsgo2003

          It’s pretty silly to judge a shortstop’s long-term defensive abilities by his early seasons. Except for truly exceptional defensive shortstops, most make gobs of errors early in their careers (e.g. Castro had 32 between the minors and majors in his age-20 season).

          • Mike W

            I only used last years stats because so many people were saying how awful Castro’s numbers were. Which they were not that bad. He may had mental malfunctions during some games but he had his best year defensively. Baez is only 20 and I get that but people should not be quick to replace Castro for Baez. If Castro can go back to his 2011 season offensively and have defensive years like last year he will be one hell of a SS. Being 23 I see improvement for Castro and with Renteria being his 4th Manager in 5 years I am sure that plays a part of his struggles, I hope he connects with Renteria so we can stop talking about this and he becomes the core piece we all want him to be.

  • Aaron

    Time to Castro to mature as a player on both sides…bat and glove. Nothing is a guarantee any longer…from shortstop to first base. It will be very interesting how Castro responds. I have a good feeling he’ll have an excellent season.

  • Rebuilding

    Probably 80% of major leaguers started at SS in Little League and then slowly filtered elsewhere up the ladder. You can never have too many SS. My bet is that Castro is the Cubs SS in 2020

    • Spriggs

      If he is still on the team then, I would guess he’d be the shortstop.

      I get your point, but just to be a prick… 1) I wonder if 80% of all major leaguers even played little league 2) what about lefties?

      • JulioZuleta

        I don’t think that matters in Little League. The SS on my high school team was a lefty. Switched to 2B in college though.

        • dumbledoresacubsfan

          David Price played SS in high school as well.

          • Voldemortsawhitesoxfan

            I just wanted to post so i could use this name.

          • EQ76

            most little league pitchers played either SS or 3B when they weren’t pitching..

            • dumbledoresacubsfan

              I was saying it more to the left handed SS discussion.

              Also, the Voldemort name gave me a good chuckle. Ha!

  • Napercal

    I hope that Castro and Baez make the decision as to who will be the future shortstop really hard. That would be a great problem to have.

    • Local BleacherBum

      I personally sort of hope Baez moves to 2nd base bc if Baez turns out to Robinson Cano-esk, it will take less to resign him to a long-term deal if he’s permanently moved 2nd base as apposed the SS, because SS is a much premium position for great hitters. I’m way looking in the future i guess with a ton of hypotheticals.

  • Steve

    I agree and think Baez at second and Castro at shortstop would be great!. I just hope the FO does not drag their feet when it is time for Baez to come up. Or even better scenerio Baez at Third, Castro at SS Alcantara at second and Bryan in Left along with Almora and Soler and Castillo manning the plate :-)

  • Steele

    This is a question that maybe no one can answer, but what is Baez like in the clubhouse? Does he seem mature? Any leadership skills? That is what I am looking for along with his ball playing skills. Obviously he is young but I think the cubs are missing a leader in the clubhouse, especially with Sori gone. If he’s a leader and skills are close, I give the position to Baez. Castro needs to prove himself with the numbers but also leading by example.

    • Cyranojoe

      Seems like Almora has got the clubhouse leadership role down pat.

    • CubsFaninMS

      Although I’ve not met Baez personally, I have a feeling he’s one of the larger egos that the team leader will have to learn how to manage effectively. Hopefully not, though.

  • Steve

    I have seen him play and he is a guy that is respected by his teammates. When Soler last year went after the dude with a bat it was Baez who grabbed him and brought him back to the duggout. He is super ultra competative a teams worst nightmare to play against and is a clutch gamer. He has hit multiple walk offs and game winners. His team in high school won the state championship and all he wants is to win!!!

    • Steele

      Thanks for the info. I love talent and players who put up big numbers but we need those players who are clutch, have confidence, and don’t make mistakes. Hopefully these core of guys have that, and hopefully Castro and Rizzo bounce back this year.

  • Steve

    Baez is a beast! He has made adjustments after being a hot head earlier on in the minors and has matured and come along way. He has a swagger a quiet confidence but as i have heard awesome with his teammates like to joke around and is very professional and respects his peers.

  • Local BleacherBum

    In all honesty I hope the FO doesn’t call up Bryant or Baez next season. Go for the #1 pick in the draft and save the kids arbitration clocks and keep them down in the minors until they are completely ready with approach and defensive efficiency. No reason to start their clocks. Gain an additional extra year of control. This team will be terrible.

    • Local BleacherBum

      I am die hard Cubs Fan, but I’m also I realist. I rather have extra years of control in their prime then get excited next season by a midseason call up. I’m 100% about the rebuild and future not getting excited about a couple games in August and September. Theo/Jed should use every trick in the book as a reason to keep them in the minors next year

      • CubsFaninMS

        I believe you’ll build some resentment if you stonewall players who are clearly ready for the majors just to save a few bucks. Keep in mind that these are job promotions to them. If I’m knocking my job out of the park (pardon the pun), I would feel unappreciated if my salary was not raised or I wasn’t eventually promoted to a level commensurate to my growth in the organization. Dealing with the “extra year of control” questions equates to a month or two and I believe it IS wise to hold them back for financial reasons under those circumstances, but holding them back all year (assuming they’re reading for the show) is bad business IMO. Just my thoughts.

        • CubsFaninMS

          Imagine this scenario: You’re a pharmaceutical sales rep and have increased the sales in your territory 300% in the past year… but you have a contingent of “onlookers” who are helping pay your salary telling management “Don’t promote him! Let’s save some money!!!”.

    • Edward

      It’s not like the Cubs are the Rays or Marlins and can’t afford to extend homegrown players. Call them up when they are ready. Effective young players do not hit free agency before the age of thirty anymore. No reason to delay their progress.

      • Edward

        The 2002 Cubs finished with a really bad record and we all know what happened in 2003. Should have kept Prior in the minors for when they could compete?

        Well actually there’s a lot that should have been done differently with Prior but I think you understand my point. Baseball is an unpredictable game and you never know.

        • Mrs. Howell

          I understand your larger point but Prior was ready. He had a historical year.

  • Mrs. Howell

    Still don’t understand why Rizzo seems universally untouchable. It’s always about moving or not loving Castro. How about Bryant at first if Rizzo continues with mediocre results. Vogelbach?

    • jt

      successful power 1B’s make a lot of money. there is still hope that Rizzo will be that guy and at a reasonable contract.

      • Mrs. Howell

        Jt, I agree and have that hope. I just don’t know why that discussion seems off limits.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Baez is a AAA shortstop, and the Cubs’ clear top prospect. There is no one even remotely comparable looming behind Rizzo for 2014.

  • Mrs. Howell

    Seriously, Castro has had more success in the bigs than Rizzo yet Rizzo is treated as untouchable-at a position easier to fill!

    • Cyranojoe

      As Brett indicated, 1B is *not* easier to fill for the Cubs right now.

      • cub2014

        1B isnt easier to fill then SS?
        every year you can sign 3-4 guys
        that can fill in offensively and
        adequately defensively.

        • Mrs. Howell

          Cub2014-you are dead on. For the last time, I want Rizzo to succeed. Just don’t understand why Smardzja and Castro have dozens of skeptics on this site but Rizzo is treated like he is already Albert Pujols.

          • Jason P

            Well for one, Rizzo was a whole lot better than Castro in 2013. And I wouldn’t say people criticize Samardzija as much as they question his value because of the Cubs high asking price in recent trade rumors.

      • Mrs. Howell

        Never said “right now.” SS is not easy to “fill now” either. Not a player ready both glove and bat.

  • Steve

    I think the real development comes in the majors. These you guys will need the major league experience before they start winning. They are not going to all of the sudden start winning because they were kept in the minors for an extra year makes no sense. Let them get the feel of big league pitching and game situations. 2017 is a realistic go for it year.

  • Mrs. Howell

    We have a potential logjam at 3B. If you can play 3B, you can play 1B. Rizzo isn’t Frank Thomas or Keith Hernandez.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Why are you trying to push Rizzo out? He’s fine. There’s no one who needs his spot.

      This post isn’t about dumping on Castro – it’s about figuring out how to best optimize the future value of Castro AND Baez. There’s not really a similar conversation going on right now at first. That’s like wondering why no one is talking about bumping Jeff Samardzija from the rotation yet to accommodate Tyler Skulina.

    • Nate Dawg

      Although Rizzo’s 2013 campaign didn’t wow any of us, he has certainly proven his power and solid approach at the MLB level. He’s also a great defensive 1B. And it might seem like we have a logjam at 3rd, but who knows what happens to Olt? He might ultimately fail. Bryant may end up being more useful at a corner OF position. And Villanueva had a good year at AA, but he probably doesn’t have the bat for 1B. Are these the guys you imagine taking Rizzo’s place? Or did you mean Valbuena or Murphy?

  • Steve

    I give Rizzo 1 more year maybe 2. He has got to show he can hit a fastball down the middle of the plate and not loot at it. More often than not he has not been clutch especially when it has mattered. If Vogelbach can develop as a descent defensive firtsbaseman and can show he can hit in the upper levels I would like to see what he can do in the big dance or trade both him and Rizzo and an infield prospect for a young top tier firtsbaseman in the American league

    • Mrs. Howell

      Steve he is young but that is my point. He has proven nothing thus far.

  • Mrs. Howell

    Never said we should push Arizona out. If all goes well, we could really have too many 3B AND OF. What if Soler, Lake, Olt, Alcantera all make it-I know it is unlikely. Where would Bryant play-BTW I love Baez but though he is the “clear #1, Bryant is very close with a much less risky downside. You telling me if others are producing and Rizzo isn’t, Bryant isn’t an option there. People on this site get mad about Smardzja being unproven yet all I hear about Rizzo is unbridled optimism. He is no sure thing!

    Now I want him to be what we hope he can be. Need the lefty bat. But he has proven zero so far.

    • Nate Dawg

      He has not proven zero. The guy hit 23 homers and 40 doubles and had an 11% BB rate last year. If he is producing less than, like, 3 of those guys whenever they come up, then yeah, one of them should replace Rizzo. But that is extremely unlikely.

      • Samard You

        Rizzo is pretty good, but the team is very bad, and the guy just isn’t seeing good pitches. Imagine if the team wasn’t being sabotaged by the owners and their employees spamming the comment sections in blog websites like this one. We’d be improving and have a realistic grab about what’s going on at the same time.

        • DarthHater

          “Imagine if the team wasn’t being sabotaged by the owners and their employees spamming the comment sections in blog websites like this one.”

          Somebody had better tell Chris N. that he needs to re-revise his book to add a 106th reason for the Cubs’ futility. I mean, it’s so obvious that blog comment boards are the real culprit. How could everyone be so blind…

        • http://bleachernation.com woody

          I might add that Rizzo may have been a victim of the same hitting lessons that Castro and Barney received. One guy has a bad year and I think that maybe that was a bad break. You have three guys and you have to look at the people screwing them up.

  • Chrisfchi

    Give Barney bench role and move Castro to 2nd. Baez at short.

  • David

    Just to throw this out there. 3rd base has also been a discussion for bar as well. Which is why the cubs have been tinkering with the idea of Kristen Bryant in the OF. Imo I really like the cubs prospects and would like to remind people of arismendy alcantara. So I would like to see baez at 3rd Castro at ss and Alcantara at 2nd. Baez’s strong am would project well at 3rd. Just my opinion

  • David

    Just to throw this out there. 3rd base has also been a discussion for Baez as well. Which is why the cubs have been tinkering with the idea of Kris Bryant in the OF. Imo I really like the cubs prospects and would like to remind people of arismendy alcantara. So I would like to see baez at 3rd Castro at ss and Alcantara at 2nd. Baez’s strong am would project well at 3rd. Just my opinion

    • Nate Dawg

      This, I think, is the scenario most of us are hoping for. Maybe Baez starts off at second to replace Barney, but eventually moves to third while Bryant moves to the outfield.

    • Mrs. Howell

      David, agreed. That’s why all I’m saying is 1B should not be off the table automatically. Love Rizzo. Hope he keeps developing but that is no certainty.

    • Patrick W.

      Don’t know if it was mentioned but in Keith Law’s chat today he was asked where he saw these guys playing in MLB and he answered: “Bryant 3B , Baez SS, Alcantara 2B … Castro … LF?”

      • arta

        or Baez in LF. IMO Castro could handle LF. speed, strong arm, and goes back good on balls.

  • Chuck24

    The Castro-Baez situation is not a problem. You find spots for good hitters, especially for those on a team that lacks offensive punch. One of them can wind up at second or in the outfield. Shortstops are generally their teams’ best athletes and can more easily move to other positions. Just ask Ryne Sandberg (came up a SS, moved to 3B, then to 2B) or Robin Yount, who was an MVP as a shortstop and centerfielder. Keep’em both!

  • Ryan

    Here’s a thought…how about the cubs see if they can pry nick franklin and some prospects from the M’s and dangle szamardzija

    • FarmerTanColin

      I dont see a fit, but doesn’t mean its impossible. 2B it just a position of strength in the near future unless they want Mike Olt.

  • Bill

    Unless Baez is a superior defensive SS (no way) then I don’t see the point in moving Castro to 2B and Baez to SS. Baez isn’t going to get called up until mid summer 2014, at the earliest, so now you are going to make 2 middle infielders have adjustments at the major league level. Castro will need to make the adjustment at SS and Baez as 2B, all during the middle of the season, no less. It may make sense to switch them during the offseason (2015), with a whole spring training to get used to the change but even then I’m not sure the move makes any sense unless Baez is clearly the better defensive SS. IF they are close, I’d keep Castro at SS and move Baez to 2B.

    If you trade Castro (his trade value will be higher as a SS) then you can move Baez to SS. Until then I don’t like to move around a bunch of parts just for the sake of moving them around. From the few games I’ve seen of Baez at SS, he’s not as good defensively as Castro. He doesn’t have Castro’s arm, he doesn’t have his range and I don’t think his hands. Also, I’m not sure there’s a better fielding SS in MLB in catching popups. Castro shows tremendous range on these balls. Castro’s biggest problem tends to be his mechanics with his feet when he gets ready to throw and he has concentration issues at times. He’s still young, those things can be overcome.

    • TOOT

      “Unless Baez is a superior defensive SS (no way) then I don’t see the point in moving Castro to 2B and Baez to SS”

      This has been expained a number of times. Baez is placing “better” as a SS than Castro when all accounting is done.

      • X The Cubs Fan

        I doubt Baez will be *that* much better than Castro, actually I think Castro is a decent defensive shortstop, all the mistakes are just learning when not to throw.

  • Bill

    What does it matter if both players on are on the team? I understand it if the point is to trade Castro, I don’t understand it if you are going to place Castro at 2B. Also, I said, the move makes more sense to me to make during the spring training of 2015 rather than the middle of the 2014 season.

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