As the offseason proceeds with the reckless abandon of a runaway weinermobile, you’re reminded that the Cubs could and should still be working behind the scenes on a Javy Baez extension, particularly now that his contract is settled for 2020 ($10 million, avoiding arbitration).
To be sure, if the Cubs wanted to include 2020 in the extension, they’d first have to move out some salary, lest they push themselves well over the luxury tax in extending a guy already under control. Alternatively, the Cubs could simply keep that $10 million deal in place for 2020, and then sign Baez to an extension that begins with the 2021 season, after they’ve presumably reset their luxury tax penalties this year.
If the Cubs go that second route, a comparable player’s extension from this time last year is sure to come up, as he was also a year away from free agency at that time (as Baez would be when his new deal kicks in next year). Shortstop Xander Bogaerts, 26 at the time, signed a six-year, $120 million extension with the Red Sox at the start of last season, which would have been his final year of team control. He wound up playing out that season on his $12 million contract for his final arbitration year, and then the extension will cover 2020-25. Bogaerts also reportedly received an opt-out provision after the third year of the deal, in 2022, as well as a vesting option at $20 million for 2026 if he is healthy in the 2025 season.
Baez, who just turned 27, will come to the table having had a slightly bigger 2018 season (5.3 WAR) than any of Bogaerts’ efforts before his deal, but Bogaerts was worth 17.6 WAR in the four years before his extension was inked, and Baez has been worth just 14.3. Overall, when you consider Baez’s defensive ability (which raises his floor considerably), but consider that Baez is a year older than Bogaerts was last year, they probably have pretty similar value heading to the negotiating table. I could probably make an argument for either guy if pushed.
Here’s how the two lined up through 2018, by the way, just before Bogaerts signed his extension (and before he had an enormous 2019 season, while Baez had a solid one):
Here they are, just for a different look, from 2017-19, when Baez established himself as a star:
As you can see, the two have become pretty comparable players in terms of total value provided. You could argue Baez was slightly more on the upswing before 2020 than Bogaerts was before 2019, but you could probably make peripheral arguments in the other direction, too.
One big difference between the two players, however? Bogaerts was already on the eve of free agency when he signed his deal, not two years away, as Baez is right now. Bogaerts deal was signed just a year before free agency, and covered entirely free agent years. A deal with Baez now would be two years before free agency, and would cover one arbitration year and then free agent years.
If Bogaerts deal was fair market for an extension in his situation, then a fair market Baez extension now would probably look very similar, with the rapid inflation we’ve seen in recent big deals offsetting the extra year of team control.
I belabor all of this because it’s rare that you have such a good, recent comp available in these kinds of negotiations, and I expect that the Cubs are probably holding very firm at that level actually being fair market. Similarly, I expect that Baez’s camp is pointing to deals continuing to explode for elite players, and is arguing that Bogaerts massively sold himself short.
In any case, Bruce Levine writes about the Baez extension situation, with the Cubs and Baez’s camp acknowledging that talks have taken place, but neither side tipping their hand about where those talks stand right now. Interestingly, despite the Bogaerts comp being out there, Levine writes this: “No party has divulged details of a potential contract, but a six-year extension in the vicinity of $200 million would seem logical.”
With all appropriate love to Baez, a six-year deal – right now – at $200 million would be anything but logical. Bogaerts’ six-year deal came with a $20 million AAV. Even if you argue that Baez’s should be higher (despite him being a year older and under control for an additional year beyond Bogaerts), are we really in a situation where the AAV on these deals has inflated by 67% in a single year? Bogaerts at $20 million annually becomes Baez at $33.3 million annually? That makes no sense.
My concern is that the number was not plucked out of thin air by Levine, and I wonder if it’s something that has quietly been floated by Baez’s camp. If so, it’s impossible to see it being a reasonable figure – again, even if you presume price tags are escalating considerably. I *extremely* hope that the two sides can get an extension worked out this offseason, because marrying up with Baez for the long-term makes too much sense for the Cubs. But I sure hope they aren’t currently trying to close a gap as enormous as that number suggests.
If I were sitting at the middle of that table, trying to help the sides come to terms? I’d tell the Cubs that you’re going to have to give Baez a higher AAV than Bogaerts because the market has changed (maybe $22-23 million?). I’d tell Baez that you’re going to have to be reasonable about the Bogaerts comp being a starting point, and you’re going to have to acknowledge he was a year younger and under control for one fewer year. And if both sides want to stick to six years, then cool, it should be easy enough to sign a deal that gives Baez a contract solidly more than Bogaerts’ deal, but stays within a reasonable range, especially if Baez gets an opt-out like Bogaerts did. If the Cubs don’t want to give the opt-out, that’s fine, too, but then you’ve gotta bump the AAV a little more.
How about six years, $140 million, no opt-out? I’ve got pens ready for you guys.