As I said last evening, I don’t think we’re ever going to know for certain how it came to be that multiple reports indicated Javier Baez was already told he was making the team (or at least that the Cubs had already made that decision). Since the most specific of the original reports came from the Sun-Times, you may as well read the Sun-Times follow-up take, from Gordon Wittenmyer, now that Joe Maddon has denied that any decision has been made or that Baez was told anything by Maddon or Theo Epstein or Jed Hoyer. There’s no backing down from the original report, and the intimation is that there could be a difference of opinion between Maddon and the front office on how best to proceed with Baez. There’s a similar take at CSN, and mention of an “internal debate” at ESPN.
Whether it’s true or not that there’s a disagreement between the manager and the front office on Baez, everyone already knows the inputs in the decision-making process: (1) What will be best for Baez’s development? and (2) How do the Cubs balance the development against wanting to win in 2015? Those aren’t obvious or simple questions, so I’d expect there would be a healthy discussion on all sides of these things, especially with a bunch of smart baseball men making the decisions in a collaborative way.
Whatever the details under the surface, the public message from Maddon has been consistent: decisions on Baez (and much of the roster) haven’t been finalized yet, but he’s a really good player who could help the team in a number of ways besides with his bat (and the bat will come around).
It sounds like Maddon wants Baez on the Opening Day roster, and he explains the in the articles above that, for some players, that’s the best approach for development, too. It might be better to struggle with your changes in the big leagues than to go to AAA, refuse to keep making the adjustments, and fall back into bad habits. Worse, in my opinion, falling back into old habits could generate good results against minor league pitching, which may set a guy like Baez even further back – maybe for good – in his long-term development.
So long as Baez doesn’t kill the Cubs with the bat – and, even with the strikeouts, he probably won’t kill them as a bottom-of-the-order hitter* – his defensive and baserunning skills will help provide value as he develops. Is it enough in a year the Cubs hope to contend? Well, that’s the balancing question.
In the end, I think it’s more likely than not that he breaks camp as the starting second baseman, but a stint at AAA to continue working on swing/approach adjustments is not out of the question.
*(PECOTA has Baez projected as a .224/.270/.429 hitter this year with a 33.2% strikeout rate, which would definitely not kill you from a good defensive second baseman. ZiPS is even more optimistic, at .233/.283/.447 with a 32.6% strikeout rate. That’s downright good if he’s got a quality glove and runs the bases well. Steamer is the most optimistic on the strikeout rate (30.7%), but least optimistic on the line (.222/.272/.425). Given Baez’s unique nature, I don’t buy that line with that strikeout rate, but I don’t want to get too far into this right now. Short version: the projection systems agree that Baez is a competent big league player for the Cubs this year if the defense is solid.)