Last night, the Chicago Cubs lost to the Cardinals – boohoo – in the first game of the season. But at least they did it with what was arguably their strongest single-game combined lineup/defensive alignment option.
By that, of course, I mean that Ben Zobrist kicked out to right field, while Jason Heyward slid over to center, and – most notably – Javy Baez drew the start at second base.
As we know, Baez drew all of the second base starts during the 2016 postseason, even though Zobrist is the nominal starting second baseman. Given how well Baez performed there (and in the World Baseball Classic), however, questions regarding the extent of his role in 2017 dominated the offseason.
To some, those questions appeared to have been answered last night – after all, Baez did draw the start on Opening Day, right? – but that doesn’t necessarily mean as much as you might think.
According to Joe Maddon (CSN), last night’s lineup (namely, with Baez starting) was simply a tribute to the 2016 World Series champions – the players that were most often on the field last October and November, when the Cubs brought it all home. Indeed, Maddon mentioned that sitting Baez last night just didn’t feel right.
Of course, as nice as that is, it probably wasn’t the only reason Baez started last night.
There’s also the possibility that Baez becomes something of a “personal second baseman” for Jon Lester – an unusual idea, but not one that’s beyond reality. When asked about that possibility, Maddon responded to CSN: “It depends …. You’d like to have Javy playing second base with anybody pitching. He’s one of the top maybe two or three second basemen in all of baseball. But we’re just going to, again, try to fit everything in as well as we possibly can.”
Last season, Baez was able to get into the games so frequently because of injuries throughout the roster (notably, Dexter Fowler and Kyle Schwarber), but this season, Maddon hopes that isn’t the case. Okay, obviously he hopes no one gets injured (they’re his players after all), so what he really means is that he hopes to find playing time for Baez on a daily basis regardless of the roster’s current status/health.
The tricky thing there is just how well-constructed this roster is. This Cubs’ roster is simply too deep and talented to guarantee Baez a starting spot every single day.
But there’s also reason to believe that he may get more starts on this club than he would on another.
After all, the Cubs have played in two consecutive postseasons, which means that there’s been a whole lot of baseball played over the past two years. Young, athletic, talented or not, that takes a toll on a player’s body. In addition, the Cubs’ nominal starting second baseman, Ben Zobrist, is not only about to turn 36 years old, but also his last two postseasons were as long as they could’ve been (back-to-back World Series with the Royals and Cubs). He’ll need to rest this year, and Baez will gladly gobble up any of his leftover starts.
But to really drive this all home, I want to point something out again. Baez will not solely start when others need a day off. He’s a starting player on this team, just in a way we haven’t been used to seeing before 2016. Trust that Baez not plan B to everyone else, but just his own kind of plan A. It may be unorthodox, and it may not be consistent, but – all things equal – Javy Baez is going to get something awfully close to a full share of plate appearances in 2017.