Jed Hoyer said prior to spring training that he planned to sit down to talk about extensions with several of his star players who are approaching the ends of their current deals, and those players have all expressed an openness to staying around. Kris Bryant confirmed as much yet again on Thursday and Javy Báez, who was close to working out a deal before everything stopped last spring, spoke about his future on Friday.
“I don’t want to play for another team,” the shortstop told reporters.
There’s no doubt the Cubs should have money to work out deals for both aforementioned players, along with Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras, but there are a few complicating factors at play. The first of those is just how much money Tom Ricketts wants to spend after making significant cuts to what had been a pretty hefty budget in previous years. Even with a late increase that may have been around $25 million, the Cubs’ payroll is still well below recent figures.
But with only about $46 million in actual cost committed to 2022 at this point, there’s absolutely no reason the Cubs can’t lock up current players and pursue some premier free agents next season. They should be getting some help from the farm system by then as well, especially the long-overdue arrival of some pitching prospects to help balance the financial scales.
Then there’s the matter of value, which for a player like Báez isn’t exactly straightforward. He’s a dynamic presence on the field and he’s got a magnetic personality, so he’s a tremendous draw even if the back of the baseball card doesn’t look so hot. That was the case in 2020, when his Gold Glove defense was just enough to buoy him to merely replacement-level production of 0.0 fWAR.
Adding to the strangeness of playing in empty ballparks, which was a detriment to someone who feeds off of the crowd’s energy, was the lack of in-game video. Báez and other players had grown used to using video in order to make real-time adjustments and ended up limping when that crutch was removed. Now that it’s back and fans are returning in limited numbers, Javy is hoping to put 2020’s performance behind him.
Baez on impact of not having fans in stands last year on his performance:
"It was the worst, to be honest. It was a worse feeling than facing a pitcher in spring training on the back field."
— Gordon Wittenmyer (@GDubCub) February 26, 2021
“I don’t want to talk about last year,” he said. “I wasn’t mentally ready for last year. It was the worst, to be honest. It was a worse feeling than facing a pitcher in spring training on the back field.”
While his detractors are certain to have a field day with those quotes, no doubt adding something snarky about swinging at a slider in the dirt, Javy is far from alone in that sentiment. Baseball players are creatures of habit and routine, so having that upset to such a great extent messed with a lot of them. Some adjusted more easily than others, but now it looks as though everyone will be back on a regular schedule.
That should pay huge dividends for a guy who posted an .847 OPS with 4.4 fWAR in 2018 after his .881 and 5.4 the previous season led to a second-place MVP finish. Now we wait to see whether the potential to repeat those feats will lead to a long-term deal to keep Javy in Chicago for years to come.