Detroit Tigers: Javier Baez is more than just a consolation prize

Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports /

Although many fans fail to acknowledge this, Detroit Tigers starting shortstop Javier Báez should not be considered a consolation prize.

Just because Al Avila and the Detroit Tigers could not come to terms with Carlos Correa, it’s not like the organization signed a slouch. People make it out like the organization signed a hot dog vendor to start at shortstop.

I was very disappointed that the Tigers didn’t find a way to match the Twins’ offer to Correa and field both Báez and Correa but we should not be disappointed by landing Báez.  The Tigers made Correa a fair offer, things didn’t work out, yet.  There is certainly hope Correa ends up in a Tigers uniform at some point but it won’t be in 2022.

The Tigers gave Báez a six-year deal worth $140 million.  Yes, the agreement has a buyout following year two, but if you’ve been following free agency at all this offseason, you know many deals have opt-outs built-in.

Detroit’s deal with Opening Day starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez‘s five-year deal also has an opt-out following year two. Ironically, that is when Miguel Cabrera’s deal is set to expire.  Is that all part of the plan?

Is Avila looking to the future, knowing by 2024, the Tigers may be in a position to surround their young prospect that will be two years more into their development with a few high-priced free agents?  Maybe Avila is hoping to target veterans like Carlos Correra, Blake Snell, and Jose Ramirez.  But, maybe, just maybe, Rodriguez and Báez love Detroit so much, and they are inclined to stay.

Sometimes it’s challenging to judge specific trends over Spring Training with players working on particular things, and this season, it’s even more so with such a condensed preseason schedule. But Báez’s confidence and swagger seem to be rubbing off on his new teammates.  I understand that Miguel Cabrera can’t turn back the clock and suddenly mirror the offensive production he once produced in his prime. Still, Cabrera seems to be energized by the big-time offseason addition.

Throughout his Hall Of Fame career Cabrera hasn’t always been the easiest guy to get along with when it comes to encounters with the media or his on-field demands. Over the past couple of seasons, the Tigers have been reluctant to move the slugging right-hander down in the batting order. Cabrera wasn’t exactly excited to embrace the transition from playing in the field every day to becoming the primary designated hitter.

Javier Báez isn’t just a consolation prize for the Detroit Tigers.

Not only is Báez a premier defender, but he also has a flair for the dramatic.  He is Jose Iglesias meets Bo Bichette.  He’s got the bat of Bichette to go along with an Iglesias-like glove.  For the younger crowd, Báez appeared on the cover of MLB The Show in 2020; he’s a star.

This past season Báez hit 31 home runs, drove in 87 runs, plus swiped 18 bags while slashing .265/.319/.494.  The biggest issue with Báez is his strikeout rate of over 29% over his career to a walk rate of just 4.8%.  But one thing rarely mentioned is his career 17.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR).  Last season he maintained a WAR of 3.6 during his time with the Cubs and Mets.

FanGraphs has this unique tool that takes a player’s WAR and turns it into dollars.  Using that calculator, Báez was worth $29.2 million last season, $34.6 million in ’19, $43.2 million in ’18.  I will not leave out the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season but take it with a grain of salt; Báez produced a negative -$0.5.  So, when you figure that the Tigers are paying Báez $23.3 million on average, this is an excellent deal for the Tigers.

Báez recently mentioned that he’s focusing on remaining patient at the plate.  That high strikeout rate is padded by swinging widely far too often at bouncing breaking balls in the dirt.  Hopefully, the 29-year old can learn a thing or two from Cabrera over the next couple of years and become a better contact hitter than he’s been in the past.

dark. Next. Predicting the starting lineup and bench for 2022

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If he adds some patience and contact to that raw power, this might be a tremendous addition to the Detroit Tigers’ lineup; do I dare say it?  Maybe even more productive than Correa.