Let’s talk about something nice tonight. Maybe lift your spirits an inch. A Chicago Cubs-Javy Báez extension.
To be sure, the Cubs should not have to trade Yu Darvish and Victor Caratini just so that they could “afford” to extend Javy Báez long-term, but now that the trade is happening, and they have saved about $55 million total over the next three years, you have to wonder if that’s coming next: $62M (Darvish) + 1.3M (Caratini) – $8M (Davies).*
*For what it’s worth, the Cubs probably saved a bit more than that on this deal, alone, because Caratini wouldn’t have been a likely non-tender in his second or third trips through arbitration, but those weren’t guaranteed dollars, so I guess we’ll throw the Cubs a bone on that one and say *at a minimum* the Cubs saved ~$55 million over the next three years in this deal.
Yesterday, Jesse Rogers suggested that the Cubs could look to extend Báez as soon as this spring, picking up where they left off last March. And earlier today, Bruce Levine echoed that sentiment (Listen here):
Bruce Levine on @670TheScore right now saying he thinks a Cubs extension for Javy Báez is still pretty likely at some point. So at least there's that?
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) December 29, 2020
Levine discussed the potential futures of a number of Cubs players, but here’s the money quote on Báez: “Going forward, I think Báez will get a contract with the Cubs, will stay at shortstop.”
Obviously, that’s not a ton to go off, but paired with their extension talks last spring, Báez’s youth and abilities, the money now saved elsewhere, the need for a PR win (who doesn’t want to see Báez in Chicago for as long as possible?), and the recent rumors from Rogers, I think it’s safe to say we could see the Cubs restarting these negotiations, perhaps even sooner than this spring.
Consider that Báez is approaching his final trip through arbitration this January/February. And although the Cubs haven’t had a lot of success extending guys around that time of the MLB calendar, that is typically an easy entry point for long-term negotiations. The Cubs and Báez will already be discussing his 2021 salary and could avoid an unnecessary/ugly arbitration battle by agreeing to a deal they might otherwise negotiate in the spring. And if the Cubs did, in fact, plan to begin negotiations around arbitration, it could help explain – in some small part, at least – why they sprinted to get a salary-saving Darvish deal done right now. That could be enough financial flexibility to lock Báez up regardless of how many fans are at Wrigley Field or how long the season is in 2021 (i.e. how the pandemic shakes out from here).
And remember, Báez might be itching to get a deal done to avoid the risk of competing with a 2022 free agent class including Francisco Lindor, Trevor Story, Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, and others along the infield like Nolan Arenado (if he opts out) and Kris Bryant (to say nothing of what happens if current free agent shortstops Marcus Semien and Didi Gregorius take one-year deals, themselves, for a better market next winter).
There are still roadblocks, of course. The Cubs and Báez had already come to a bit of a stalemate last spring and that was before Báez had a confusing and frustrating and very disappointing 2020 season, during which he was literally the third worst hitter in MLB. And while a number of all-star sluggers and former MVP types in their prime had tough years last year, I can’t imagine that makes things easier for either party to come to the “right” number. The Cubs might have found themselves an excuse to offer even less than they were last spring (which wasn’t enough for Báez’s camp) and Báez’s camp might’ve found an excuse to risk trying to rebuild his value in 2021 even despite that monster free agent shortstop class next winter. And if that competition gets even thiner (like an extension for Lindor, Story, or Seager and/or two+ year deals for Semien and Gregorius) he might be even more incentivized to wait it out and take his chances. Buuuut that’s still a risk. Báez could get hurt, he could struggle again, the CBA negotiations could mess with his market. Who knows.
All things considered – the prior rumors, the current reports, the additional payroll space, the long-term market considerations, etc. – I think the chances that Báez and the Cubs find common ground on an extension likely ticked up this week. So at least there’s that?
There is a competing theory bouncing around in my head that was buoyed by the potential trade rumors for Willson Contreras, but I don’t much care for the implications.
In short, if the Cubs trade Contreras (who’s one of the few guys who’ll actually be here after this season), then the concept of extending Báez, when you might otherwise play 2022 without all of Contreras, Caratini, Darvish, Davies, Rizzo, Bryant, Schwarber, Kimbrel, and others gets a lot less enticing. I don’t doubt that Báez will still be a very valuable player – and likely one who could be retained on a reasonable contract – but it’s suddenly a little less obvious of a decision (even accounting for the fact that I just plainly, you know, want him to be here). Fortunately, the Cubs will probably extend Rizzo, too (just a hunch) and should have some prospects arriving alongside some pretty serious financial flexibility (I … hope) at that time. So this could all be moot. I just want to note that trading Contreras does make 2022+ (i.e. likely the best years of a Báez extension) that much less of a competitive (and thus financial) priority.