Javy Báez’s upcoming free agent contract has always been pretty tough to project.
You try to go by various comps over the years, while allowing for externalities like salary inflation, an expiring CBA, and macro changes to big league contracts, generally. But then you also try to adjust for some of the peculiarities in Báez’s game, and that’s where it gets really tough. There’s the unique way he contributes to a team, and the non-playing value. There are his EXTREME stretches of performance (both good and bad). There are his carrying skills – elite defense and elite bat speed – which may not age all that well into his 30s, which means he’ll have to keep adjusting. And then, of course, there’s the uniquely crowded shortstop market this offseason.
It wasn’t that long ago that, when considering every factor, together with his performance the last couple years, that some were wondering whether Báez might be best served taking a one-year “pillow” contract and hitting the market again next year. That seemed more like hope from us Cubs fans than a real, plausible outcome, but things admittedly did hit a low point during that whole thumbs down thing (when Báez also was struggling badly at the plate, and was coming off another injury).
Since then, Báez has been on fire. So much so that his season line is now up to .264/.318/.506 with a 119 wRC+. His season is looking better even than the 2019 year that followed his 2018 MVP runner-up season. In other words, you could now more comfortably make the narrative case that the 2020 season was a total pandemic blip, and even the early part of this year was just Báez getting his footing. He is currently a 28-year-old who can play exceptional defense at shortstop, and is also raking.
A reunion with the Cubs has seemed possible, if unlikely, since the trade to the Mets. The hot close to the season may have ended that possibility, unless the Cubs want to ball out, because the expected price tag on Báez is substantial.
Now that the Mets and the New York media don’t hate Javy anymore, John Harper at SNY endeavored to find out the price tag ranges that MLB executives and scouts could see this offseason for Báez. The numbers don’t even contemplate any kind of bargain, short-term deal, and range upwards to clear superstar level:
“In polling scouts and executives on the question of Baez value, I heard a range of possibilities, with everyone I spoke to citing a number of factors that could land the price anywhere from a low end of $125 million over five or six years to a high end pushing $200 million over seven or eight years.”
Those are big numbers, but, I suspect, understandable ones. Of course the range is still really wide.
That 6/$125M at the low end looks familiar, as it’s roughly the Xander Bogaerts deal (albeit Báez would be in free agency instead of a year away from it, as Bogaerts was), and always felt like a particularly strong comp. The Cubs reportedly were discussing a much more sizable deal for Báez before the pandemic hit, and the report had it that Báez “passed up” on $180-ish million. Since then, he had the terrible pandemic season, but has now bounced back with what is looking like it could be his second best season yet. Maybe there’s an argument that approaching $200 million is possible? Seems like a high-end stretch to me, but I can at least see what the argument looks like.
All to say, I’m not sure the ranges offered by the anonymous evaluators are all that crazy. A little high at the high-end, but probably a pretty good bet to at least get the low-end.
For Báez to wind up getting anything less than that range, he’d have to find a market that dramatically prefers the other available shortstops, that is unwilling to move quickly on him, and then stalls out after the flip of the calendar. It’s possible, and for that reason my *personal* projected low-end on Báez contract offers would probably dip below $100 million. I’m not saying I think he falls that far, just that there’s still enough uncertainty to make it possible.
I tend to think that’s the only way the Cubs and Báez get back into serious talks, by the way. Because as much as *I* might love Báez, the fact that the Cubs didn’t seriously re-engage in extension talks this year before trading Báez makes me think that if those $180-ish million offer rumors were true, they’ve since reconsidered. As has been reported, I don’t think the door is closed by any means, I just don’t think the Cubs have ever been eager to go to the top of the market on any of their previous positional players.
An additional bit of upside for Báez? In a market that is going to be loaded with players saddled by Qualifying Offers, Báez is ineligible to receive one thanks to the trade. One last parting gift from the Cubs?