Earlier this week, Dave Cameron opined at FanGraphs about the Los Angeles Dodgers’ need at second base, and the possible avenues for a fit there. Naturally, one of the suggestions was a swap with the Chicago Cubs involving Javy Baez. On paper, that kind of trade makes all the sense in the world: the Cubs have a second baseman in Ben Zobrist, making Baez expendable. The Cubs have a dire need for long-term, young, controlled starting pitching, and the Dodgers can offer top pitching prospect Jose De Leon to begin a package. Everybody wins, right?
Of course we know that doesn’t quite sum things up in reality, primarily because Baez – even without a set defensive home – is far from “expendable.”
As the top back-up at a number of positions, with defensive and baserunning ability most players only dream of, and a bat loaded with potential, Baez is a guy the Cubs can and will happily keep in the fold, regardless of the position players around him. He makes the Cubs better, and the Cubs are facing another very competitive season in 2017. Sometimes, we needn’t overcomplicate things.
Further, even if the Cubs were going to entertain moving Baez, it would have to be for a young pitcher they knew would step right into the rotation in the next few years and succeed at a very high level. De Leon is an exceptional pitching prospect whom many expect to be great in the big leagues, the 24-year-old righty currently has just 17.0 (unsuccessful) innings of big league experience. He also dealt with shoulder inflammation this past season.
All of that is to say that, even if you set aside the difficulty in putting together a trade between two top NL contenders, there may not be a perfect value fit in this kind of trade – especially when you consider just how much the Cubs can get out of Baez on their own team, despite those pitching needs.
Ken Rosenthal took on Cameron’s suggestion this morning from a different angle, noting that, yes, the chances of this kind of trade are slim, but questioning just what the Cubs are going to do with Baez.
As Rosenthal notes in his close: “But at some point, [Baez] could grow frustrated in a super-utility role, viewing himself — correctly — as worthy of a starting job.”
While Rosenthal is absolutely correct that Baez has demonstrated starter-level ability (with upside), the counter here would be that being *the* super utility player on a Joe Maddon team is a starting job. By no means will I suggest that it’s an easy gig, and I don’t want to dismiss the possibility that it could make it more difficult for Baez to focus more on the offensive side of his game. But last year, Baez appeared in 142 games after missing the first two weeks of the season with a thumb injury. In other words, he appeared in virtually every single Cubs game for which he was available. His 450 plate appearances were 7th most on the team. Baez may not have had a set position last year, but he was quite clearly a starter.
How that role plays out this year, however, is a little more questionable. Consider that, unlike last year, the Cubs will presumably have Kyle Schwarber starting regularly – including against lefties – in left field. Most days, that will remove the possibility of sending Ben Zobrist or Kris Bryant out that way to open up a spot for Baez. The Cubs could instead shift Jason Heyward to center field some days, put Zobrist or Bryant in right field, and then open up a spot for Baez – and some days, I expect that will happen. The pathway to regular super utility playing time this season is a little less clear.
But then again, Kyle Schwarber didn’t get hurt until April last year. Right now, it’s not even February. As Maddon often says, baseball has a way, unfortunately, of sorting these things out.
I have every confidence that Javy Baez will find himself starting many games this year, and subbing into almost every game he doesn’t start. And, if the bat shows signs of taking those next steps forward, then he’ll become an everyday player somewhere.
That is all to say, while I enjoy entertaining these kinds of trade suggestions from an analytical perspective, I agree with both Cameron and Rosenthal that a trade with the Dodgers is very unlikely.
And I’d go a step further to say that any trade involving Javy Baez any time soon is very unlikely.