Javier Baez left yesterday’s Iowa Cubs game in the later innings, shortly after Tommy La Stella left a rehab game at AA Tennessee, and Tommy Birch reported that Baez’s departure from the I-Cubs game was not for health reasons.
Dots were quickly connected and speculation swirled: is Baez on his way back up to the Chicago Cubs? Was it going to be La Stella, but then he got hurt so the Cubs instead opted for Baez? Where is Baez going to play? Is going to rotate? Will he push someone else to another position? Will there be multiple moves? THINGS! STUFF! AHHH!
Pump the brakes for a moment.
While it is entirely possible that Baez being pulled from the game yesterday did have something to do with La Stella and/or the big league roster, which is clearly in need of another bat or two, I don’t think we can yet go any further than to say *IF* there’s a relationship there, the Cubs simply could have been protecting themselves *IN CASE* they decided, during today’s off-day, that they wanted to bring Baez up. Imagine a scenario where La Stella is down for a while, where someone at the big league level gets hurt yesterday, too, and then Baez gets dinged. Oof. Nightmare fuel.
That said, it’s also quite possible that Baez was taken out for any number of reasons that have nothing to do with any of this. Let’s not forget: Baez is at AAA Iowa for a reason. He’s got a number of things to work on with his approach and his swing, and, while the early returns are positive (.299/.382/.433, 25.0% K rate, 7.9% BB rate), he’s been at Iowa for just 76 plate appearances. He lost his sister at the end of Spring Training, and rushing him back to the big leagues because there’s a need may not be in anyone’s best interests.
And now a HOWEVA to the “that said” …
Ken Rosenthal was at Wrigley Field this weekend, and he put together a video package that touches, heavily, on Javier Baez. You can watch the video here for the full context, but Rosenthal speculates – perhaps with a little background info – that Baez could be back up soon for the Cubs, who would, in that scenario, want Baez starting every day. That would mean one of Baez, Addison Russell, and Starlin Castro goes to third base, and Kris Bryant goes to left field. Rosenthal says Baez to third is the “least disruptive” choice, though I’m not sure if that’s true with respect to Baez’s development. I’ve got to believe that, if this were under serious consideration at this time, Baez would be seeing action at third base. That hasn’t happened, as he’s almost exclusively been playing second at Iowa.
Paul Sullivan also wrote about Baez this weekend, and it’s a good read about Baez’s progress, generally, and the approach the Cubs are taking with him at Iowa. Therein, Sullivan mentions that the Cubs are disinclined to bring Baez up to be a bench piece – further scuttling those Baez/La Stella rumors – and prefer he get regular playing time in the minors right now, if that were the choice.
An added wrinkle to all of this: Baez is versatile, runs the bases well, and could help the big league team win games, even if he wasn’t regularly starting. Joe Maddon likes Baez a lot. At what point do the Cubs roll the dice on Baez’s development to help the big league team? For me, the answer is probably not for a little while, but it’s something to consider, especially given that Maddon could rotate guys around to maximize “regular” playing time and matchups.
(I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the future trade implications here, as it’s possible the Cubs will sort some of this out via midseason trade. That militates in favor of letting Baez continue to work at AAA Iowa, rather than come up and be a part-timer on the big league team. I resign this discussion to a parenthetical, because I’m not sure it’s going to drive the Cubs’ decision – but it needed a mention somewhere in here.)
So, from where I sit, I’m not sure we’ll see Baez any time soon unless there was an obvious spot for him to start. The idea of shuffling everyone around so that Bryant could displace Chris Coghlan in left field might be appealing to some, but (1) are we really ready to give up on the idea of Bryant as an acceptable third baseman (where it’s much harder to go out and find a big bat than in left field – which is also where someone like Kyle Schwarber could play if his bat is ready too soon for him to keep catching)?, and (2) are we sure that Baez’s bat would be an upgrade over Coghlan’s? Yes, there would probably be a net defensive upgrade, but Coghlan’s .194/.269/.370 line belies the fact that he’s been the unluckiest hitter in baseball. Despite being 13th in baseball in least soft contact and sporting a nice 23.2% line drive rate, Coghlan has a mere .213 BABIP. His peripherals are all just as good as last year – the BABIP is the only thing holding him down, statistically, and it does not appear to be the product of poor performance on his part.
To sum up: it seems to make the most sense to keep Baez at AAA Iowa for a least a little while longer, and re-evaluate in a couple weeks, until/unless a regular need pops up.
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