One way or another, Javier Baez could become deeply important to the Chicago Cubs in 2016.
Joe Maddon remains pleased with what he’s seeing from Baez as a super utility player after the 23-year-old has looked good at both shortstop and in center field in the last few days (Tribune, Cubs.com). As we get closer and closer to final roster cuts, Maddon’s comfort with Baez as a true super utility player – the highest and best plan for Baez right now – will go a long way to determining how the tail end of the roster will be constructed, right down to whether the Cubs will be able to carry eight relievers, or whether they’ll feel like they need an extra player on the bench (lopping off a reliever in the process).
More than Maddon’s comfort with Baez defensively at a variety of positions, he also feels like Baez will be accepting of that role. That, too, is extremely important for this process to be a success. For his part, Baez tells the Tribune that he’d like to settle into a defensive home at some point in his future, but he’s prepared to be the super utility guy for the next year or two as needed. That may well be how things play out, long-term.
Instead, it’s far more likely – sorry – that someone gets hurt, and Baez winds up playing a long stretch (or two) at a set position this year. Obviously no one is hoping for that, but it’s just kind of the way things play out. The Cubs were extraordinarily healthy last year among their starting position players, and you can’t always count on that. It only takes one out of about five guys to get hurt for Baez to find himself starting at one spot every day.
Consider that, if any of Dexter Fowler, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Ben Zobrist, Anthony Rizzo is seriously hurt, Baez might wind up starting regularly at a set position. That could also prove true, depending on how some other things shake out, if any of Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, or Miguel Montero is hurt.
Just be happy that the Cubs have a guy like Baez ready to go in the event of a serious injury, wherever it may occur.
And, if it doesn’t, then he’ll simply be ready and willing to get his playing time where it’s needed, appearing here and there at a variety of positions throughout the course of the season.