Sometime over the next two years (or two weeks, if we’re lucky), the Chicago Cubs will want to extend shortstop Javy Baez. Of that I have no doubt. Finding the right value on such a deal, however, has been a bit of tricky biscuit.
Typically, players, agents, and teams alike look around the league for similar deals on which to lay a foundation, but even some apparently ideal comps can fall apart upon further inspection, as Brett discussed last time this conversation popped up with respect to Xander Bogaerts.
In short, although Bogaerts, who signed his extension last April, and Baez are close in age and performance through this point in their respective careers, Bogaerts was already on the eve of free agency when he signed his deal, not two years away, as Baez is right now. And that changes almost everything. Generally speaking, Bogaerts had a lot more leverage than Baez does and carried a lot less personal risk of injury/under-performance just six months away from free agency, but a carbon copy of his deal probably does not get something done for Baez, because context matters. Or, at least, that’s what Baez’s representation would rightly tell you.
Just as quickly as the Cubs would point to Bogaerts’ deal as the model for any potential Javy Baez extension, Baez’s camp would point to the extremely different environment of the time.
Bogaerts may have signed less than a year ago, but he was agreeing to an extension at the end of the most extreme bear market for free agents since free agency began. For two years, legitimately high-caliber players were left unsigned well into the regular season. Meanwhile, extraordinarily team-friendly extensions were being handed out left and right as young players rightly feared for their financial future.
Players who signed extension in February 2019 or later: Nolan Arenado, Chris Sale, Aaron Hicks, Ryan Pressly, Miles Mikolas, Paul Goldschmidt, Justin Verlander, Matt Carpenter, Khris Davis, Mike Trout, Randal Grichuk, Kyle Hendricks, Jacob deGrom, Aaron Nola, Alex Bregman, German Marquez, Luis Severino, Jose Leclerc, Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler, Blake Snell, Eloy Jimenez, Brandon Lowe, Ronald Acuña Jr., David Bote, Ozzie Albies.
Needless to say, extending with your current team for whatever close-value available wasn’t just in vogue, it was necessary, even for the game’s best players.
But like a pendulum held to one side for too long, things have swung back hard in the opposite direction. Late deals for Bryce Harper ($330M), Manny Machado ($300M), and Mike Trout ($426M) last spring opened the door to a new tier of free agent spending this winter, and Anthony Rendon ($245M), Stephen Strasburg ($245M), and Gerrit Cole ($324M) walked right on through. The price of top-tier free agents has skyrocketed and it’s brought a lot of the market along with it.
Point being, for however much Bogaerts felt like he had to sign an extension lest he be strung out in free agency, Baez might feel the exact opposite. The price of poker has gone up, Baez’s reps might contend, and so the Cubs offer must, as well.
All of which is to say “we” clearly need as many new data points as possible to help this deal along. And the Diamondbacks have offered one, albeit certainly imperfect.
Nick Ahmed, 29, was one year from free agency, in his final year of arbitration, when the Diamondbacks extended him to a four-year, $32.5M deal this week. The next pact covers one year of arbitration and three years of free agency, as Ahmed approaches his age 30 season.
Now, obviously, there are about a million difference between this deal and anything Baez would agree to, but there’s still some useful data-points. Ahmed, like Baez would likely be on any such extension, is just one year from free agency, not two, and isn’t still in his mid-twenties (like Bogaerts was), when player performance tends to peak. Ahmed, like Baez, is also a defensive wizard at shortstop, with back-to-back Gold Glove awards to his name.
The overall offensive output between Baez (career 105 wRC+) and Ahmed is (74 wRC+) is vast, to say the least (though they did share matching .316 OBPs last season), but Ahmed did have his best season last year (92 wRC+), the year before his extension.
Ultimately, Ahmed’s deal is not so much Javy Baez’s floor as it is the bunker under the basement, but it isn’t a worthless datapoint. A post-2019 offseason extension for a defensively-gifted shortstop one year from free agency on the right side of 30 has value, particularly depending on what happens to Baez’s offensive performance this year (if the sides don’t sign a deal this offseason, that is).
Baez deserves a whole lot more than Ahmed ultimately got – probably like $100M more – but if this deal does anything, I can’t say it helps his case for something closer to $200M. Free agency may be more lucrative than ever, but there’s a new CBA coming and Baez is still two years from that market.