As recently as a few days ago, it remained a very open question whether Javier Baez would open the season in Chicago or Des Moines, where the AAA Iowa Cubs play. We know Baez’s talent is sky high, but we also know how many interweaving things he’s being asked to work on right now, and it wasn’t clear whether it was going to be best for him (and for the Cubs) to continue working those things out against big league pitching (and with the big league coaching staff), or if he needed some time in the minors.
Well, as of today, it’s looking very likely that Baez will indeed be with the big league club when the season opens.
First, there was this tweet from Bruce Levine:
Cubs have done a 180 on Javier Baez . He now seems in good shape to open on the 25 man roster .
— Bruce Levine (@MLBBruceLevine) March 24, 2015
I wanted to ponder the implications of Levine’s suggestion a little longer before going too far with it, but then Gordon Wittenmyer reported this evening that Baez has been told he’s making the team. You should read Wittenmyer’s piece for more on the apparent decision, including comments from Joe Maddon that suggest he’s very sold on Baez’s defense, in particular. (This Cubs.com piece also has more effusive praise for Baez from Maddon, though there is no suggestion there that Baez has already made the team.)
You can’t quite say this would be a surprising decision, because it was always possible – whether he struggled with adjustments in Spring Training or not – that the Cubs were going to decide that it was best for Baez to keep working things out in the big leagues. He’s had to make adjustments before at new levels, and maybe that’s just how he works.
Further, I’ve said it again and again: setting aside the offense for a moment, Baez does everything else so well. He plays good defense up the middle (and he’s got one of the quickest tags I’ve ever seen). He runs the bases very well. He has good speed. He has very high baseball IQ. If you could divorce yourself from the idea that he’s failing to reach his offensive potential, you’d see a guy who could very well help the Cubs win games in a variety of ways.
That said, the strikeouts remain a concern, and, offense being a disproportionately large chunk of a position player’s value, Baez will have to improve if he’s going to be a net benefit to the big league team.
There’s no way Baez is making this team unless he’s going to be the starting second baseman, so there are other ramifications here. For one thing, Baez on the team makes it more complicated for the Cubs to carry Welington Castillo as a third catcher (something they’ve said they’re leaning toward), or to carry all of Arismendy Alcantara, Mike Olt, and Tommy La Stella. It can be done, even with Castillo in the fold, but it will require that the Cubs don’t carry a fifth outfielder (Chris Denorfia being the sole outfielder on the bench). Further, Joe Maddon is a genius at roster usage, but even I’m scratching my head at how he’ll get at bats for all the guys I’d like to see getting regular at bats.
As for Baez, if he makes the team, he’s probably just going to have to work through struggles for a while. Maybe now knowing that he’ll be in Chicago will help him relax and focus on adjustments with these final two weeks of Spring Training.
For now, the Cubs aren’t going to make any kind of official roster announcements, so don’t expect to hear a confirmation just yet that Baez is definitely making the team. It sounds like it’s headed that way, but you never quite know for sure until the team heads north.
And while you’re waiting for those Opening Day roster decisions, why not join an Opening Day contest that could win you some sweet prizes (and support BN in the process)?