Javy Baez is 24 years old and has fewer than 230 games in Major League Baseball, and yet, somehow, everyone knows his name.
He’s a burgeoning star, who plays with as much energy, excitement, and talent as anybody in baseball. He’s not the game’s best player – he’s far from it – but he’s easily one of the best to watch.
And yet, he still doesn’t have a starting spot on the Chicago Cubs.
Of course, as we know, his role will be far more significant than first-off-the-bench, because in reality, he’s not “on the bench.” He’s effectively the back-up at seven positions (I’ll explain that in a bit), but playing time questions still rightfully persist.
Before we get into this too much, I want to make sure you’ve all seen Javy’s fundamentally bada** tag (sorry, what else would you call it?) for Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic:
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) March 15, 2017
The complete and utter confidence in his skills is unprecedented and justifiable. Baez simply has a knack for tagging out runners – it’s like a sixth sense, and it’s not a secret.
“Everyone wants to tag like Javy now.” Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon said via Cubs.com. “In a strange way, in a very short period of time, he’s put himself on the map through his ability to tag somebody out at second base. It’s crazy.”
Maddon went onto explain something we’ve long suggested here at Bleacher Nation. In short, Baez’s playing time this season *will be* more than “he only gets in when someone else needs a day off.” Of course, the two easiest ways he’ll get into the game are at second base (where he can spell Ben Zobrist) and shortstop (where he can tap out Addison Russell).
But it’ll be more than that.
Obviously, Baez can also give Kris Bryant a break at third base, and even Anthony Rizzo at first, but I can see him also getting into action any time one of the outfielders need a day off and one of the infielders (likely Kris Bryant or Ben Zobrist) head back to the grass to cover their spots. After all, the Cubs have lefties in right (Jason Heyward) and left (Kyle Schwarber) field, and potentially another Jon Jay in center. When a tough lefty comes to town, there’ll be some moving around.
But of course, that’s all ON TOP of the days he’ll get to start simply because he’s a good ballplayer.
At CSN Chicago, more of Maddon’s comments suggest further confidence in Baez, the player. When discussing how “the league” might respond to Baez’s flair for the dramatic, Maddon essentially suggested that Baez has proven himself enough by now, that his fellow players (like, around the league, not on the Cubs) will believe he’s earned it. While that’s not something that necessarily matters as much to fans (especially fans of Javy’s) it does go to show how well thought of he already is.
In a different article from Patrick Mooney (CSN Chicago), Joe Maddon says that he’s already had the playing time conversation with Baez.
“That was part of the meeting that we had with everybody, to talk bluntly about how this is all going to play out. He understood that. And he’s fine with it.”
Reiterating that Baez will cover both Zobrist (who will need more time off now, at age 36, than ever) and Russell, Maddon also suggested that Baez will probably get into most of the games he doesn’t start anyway – yet another way to bump up those plate appearances and chances in the field.
And finally, there’s always the unfortunate scenario the Cubs experienced last season: injuries.
“These things have a way of working themselves out” is more than a cliche. The Cubs know that as well as anyone. But given how much I don’t feel like thinking about that, I’ll just leave it right here on the periphery of the conversation.
So there it is. Javy will routinely spell Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell, but can also take the reigns when Anthony Rizzo or Kris Bryant needs a day off. In addition, when any of the infielders move to the outfield, he’ll be the first to resume his daily duties. He’ll also get regular, old-fashioned starts here and there. And finally, he’ll come into most games as a replacement at some point anyway.
Javy Baez will get his playing time, just like he did last year. That, you don’t have to worry about. And even if his time is limited, well, we know what he can do with just a few opportunities.