The 2020 season was not kind to Javy Báez at the plate, as is true for a lot of guys who typically performed much better than they showed. Báez never looked right at the plate, and you just have to hope that it was mostly an artifact of the stop-start prep for the season, a small sample, and the lack of in-game video for review, which should change next year.
The good news on the season is that Báez’s struggles at the plate clearly did not impact his work in the field, where he is not only a Gold Glove finalist in the NL at shortstop, but he’s also already an award-winner.
The Fielding Bible hands out one award at each position each year, and Báez took it home at shortstop for 2020. This is a big deal:
This is his 4th Fielding Bible Award. His first 3 were as a multi-position player pic.twitter.com/9ABidhUDq7
— Sports Info Solutions (@SportsInfo_SIS) October 29, 2020
The Cubs’ defense was outstanding this year, and there was no more important factor in that equation than Báez. We’ve probably come to take his elite defense for granted, especially in a very down year for the bat. Consider that, despite hitting a dreadful .203/.238/.360 (57 wRC+, third worst in MLB, just 2 points ahead of the worst), Báez was a flat 0.0 WAR at FanGraphs, and 0.6 at Baseball-Reference (which weights/calculates defense differently). That’s how good and important his defense was at short: he could be basically be the worst hitter in baseball, and still be worth starting on your team at shortstop, at least at a replacement level.
Báez is projected in arbitration to receive around $10 to $12 million in his final year of team control in 2021. Even in this massive cost-cutting offseason, I tend to think he’s pretty darn safe from a non-tender at that level, since you’re betting on the upside that the bat returns to being at least slightly above average (at which point, combined with the glove, he’s a very valuable player).
The bigger question on Báez, in my view, is whether he and the Cubs get together on some kind of extension this offseason. It’s rough sledding for any deal like that at the moment, but it would have to be a situation where Báez doesn’t want to risk whatever happens in 2021 (to him, to the sport, to the CBA, and to the shortstop-loaded free agent market), and instead wants to make sure he gets at least one huge payday in his career. And for the Cubs, it would have to be a situation where they know they want to keep Báez for many more years, and hope to sign a deal that is structured to protect them on the financial side in the near-term (i.e., cheaper than they were expecting at this time last year, and also heavily backloaded).