In case you missed it, Chicago Cubs fans got a plate full of COOKIES today with the announcement that elite infield prospect Javier Baez would be promoted from AAA Iowa tomorrow, and join the big team in Colorado. Ah, Javy Baez in Coors Field …
The promotion was understandably and rightly met with excitement in all corners, and my initial brain capacity was limited to screaming GIFs and office dancing (door closed). Now that I’ve had some time to collect myself, there are a number of angles to the promotion, and implications therefrom, that merit addressing.
First thing’s first: the Cubs’ 40-man roster currently stands at 39, so there’s no need for a move immediately. Kyuji Fujikawa’s DL stint is up on Tuesday, so something may have to be decided then (he’s on the 60-day DL, which takes him off the 40-man roster, but, when he’s activated, he’ll need a spot). For now, though, Baez will be the 40th man.
As for the 25-man roster, it’ll be very interesting to see who gets bumped for Baez. Presently, the Cubs have five infielders and five outfielders on the roster, so you’d expect to see an infielder sent out. The problem there is that, presumably Baez will be the every-day starter at second base, pushing Arismendy Alcantara into every-day duty in center field. That means the Cubs will actually have six outfielders on the roster, which seems a bit much, especially when you’re already playing with a short bench. I wonder if we’re going to see Junior Lake optioned back to AAA Iowa. Other possibilities include Chris Valaika going back (I doubt the Cubs would have added him just a few days ago, knowing that Baez was on the way, and knowing they were going to send him right back down), or someone like Justin Ruggiano hitting the disabled list (he has been dealing with a groin issue, but it might not be very serious – so I’m merely pointing out that a DL move of some kind for someone is possible).
Speaking of Alcantara to center field, it’s certainly the right move vis a vis Baez coming up (Baez needs to start, has been playing second base (not third base) and Starlin Castro is going to stay at shortstop). Given how good Alcantara has looked at second base defensively, we might always wonder what could have been (or maybe the Cubs figure out a way to rotate him in there occasionally, utilizing his positional versatility long-term). Then again, super small sample, and he might wind up very good in center field, too. As we’ve said all along, this is one of those “good problems” that comes along when you’ve got so damn much young talent.
The service time implications of this call-up are a little complicated, depending on if Baez is up for good. If Baez stays up from now until forever, the Cubs will control his rights through 2020, and he won’t qualify for an extra year of arbitration (Super Two) in 2017. Instead, he’d just be a normal guy: partial year in 2014, first pre-arb year in 2015, second pre-arb year in 2016, third and final pre-arb year in 2017, first arbitration year in 2018, second arbitration year in 2019, and third and final arbitration year in 2020. Had the Cubs called Baez up in late April for good, instead, all of those things would have bumped back by one year.
If Baez is sent back down at any point this year, or starts next year in the minors, you can toss some of that out, depending on how long he’s down. Say he stays up for two months this year, but starts in the minors next year to work on the things that emerged this year. The Cubs would have to keep him down until about mid-June to gain the extra year of control (2021). At that point, though, he may well qualify as a Super Two a few years down the road, netting him an extra arbitration year. But we’re already getting too far down the rabbit hole of alternative possibilities and speculation. The most likely outcome here is that Baez is up the rest of the year, and, even if he starts 2015 in the minors, it probably won’t be for long enough for the Cubs to get the extra year of control.
Which brings us to a very important point about this promotion: with it, the Cubs said forget about service time considerations, it’s time to bring Baez up. At all times, a good organization will defer to development considerations over service time considerations. That doesn’t mean you don’t care (deeply) about the latter, it just means that if a guy like Baez comes along, and you believe he needs to get some big league experience – even if the timing is inconvenient – you do it. And the Cubs are. I don’t really want to hear anything about the Cubs being cheap or greedy or whatever when it comes to prospects for a little while. Keeping Baez down until late April would have been understandable and justifiable, and the Cubs aren’t doing it.
Speaking of the development stuff, I’m very happy that Baez is going to get a significant chunk of big league experience this year. Then, a lot of his adjusting can come late this year, in the offseason, in Spring Training, and then early next year. There’s a chance, because of this schedule, that Baez could be a very good big league player and contribute meaningfully to a good Cubs team in 2015. Don’t mistake that for me putting 2015 pressure on Baez – I’m just saying that, developmentally-speaking, it seems to be a little more possible that a guy like Baez, in particular, could really benefit from this.
And, speaking of that: The nice thing about the excitement about the promotion news is that it’s safe to be totally unabashed in your joy. This front office has shown itself to be relatively conservative with promotions, and, above all else, they’re not going to rush a guy to the big leagues until he’s ready for the next step in his development (even if that next step might come with some bumps and bruises). So, even if you previously thought early August would be too early for a Baez call-up, you can now throw that out the window. The guys who are the closest to, and know the most about, Javier Baez say that now is the time.
Baez might struggle at the big league level this year. You better be prepared for that. As exciting as it is to see him up, and tease the future, the entire point of his call-up is to expose him to the difficulty of succeeding against big league pitching. I expect a whole lot of strikeouts, punctuated by things that make your jaw hit the floor. In that regard, I have zero expectations for Baez’s actual performance this year. I just want to see him getting regular at bats, learning from the process, and hinting at what could be in store for him (and us) in the future. Similarly, don’t go overboard if his numbers look great in a small sample.
While it would no longer technically be a “pre-playing” extension (I told you those were rare), unless it’s announced before tomorrow, I think it’s still fair to keep a close eye on Baez extension talks.
As for the AAA Iowa roster, don’t look for Addison Russell to be the guy getting the bump. Instead, it could be someone sent down from the big team, or a slightly less-notable prospect called up from AA.
Based on some discussions we’ve had in the comments over the years, it’ll be very interesting to see what impact, if any, Baez’s call-up has on the Cubs’ ticket sales. I’d expect a very modest bump for this weekend’s series (Baez will make his Wrigley debut on Friday against the Rays, by the way), and then not much after that. Incremental ticket buyers – i.e., the non-hardcore types that make up the difference in sales between the season ticket holder base and a sell-out – tend not to be as into prospecting, or individual players, as you might think. History tells us that the only tried and true way to sell extra tickets is to win, and to be in a playoff race come August and September. The Cubs aren’t, so I stand by my ticket prediction. I’m very interested to get some actual data, though. And if I’m wrong, hey, more revenue for the Cubs.