After a runner-up MVP performance last season, many wondered if Javy Báez would regress in 2019. It was a fair question considering just how good he had been and how he did it despite not really changing his hyper-aggressive approach. Thing is, stats don’t tell El Mago’s story. Sure, he hit 34 home runs and posted an .881 OPS to give him 6.3 WAR, but those can’t do justice to the magic he performs on the bases or the impossible tags and prowess he displays on defense.
So far in 2019, Báez has done anything but regress from his great season. He has already hit nine homers and has an 1.046 OPS, good for a 58 home run pace. It seems like an absolutely obvious move to lock him down to a long-term contract as soon as possible. So why hasn’t Chicago’s braintrust gotten it done yet?
Theo Epstein has been vocal about not negotiating extensions during the season, a practice that goes beyond just players. He addressed questions about a potential Joe Maddon extension by saying it would have to wait for the offseason.
“I’d say the appropriate time, for us internally, is to start thinking about [an extension for Maddon] after we’ve played our last game of the year,” Epstein said.
Epstein even put off his own deal, including those for his top lieutenants, until the very last minute in 2016. As The Athletic’s Patrick Mooney wrote last August ($), the Cubs brass really only inked new contracts when they did because of the impending playoff run.
Epstein, the ultimate planner, once created his own lame-duck situation, waiting until September of the final season of his original five-year contract with the Cubs before hammering out a five-year extension with chairman Tom Ricketts, not wanting it to become a distraction during the 2016 playoffs.
With full understanding of his thought process, I would advise Epstein to ignore preferences and make Javy the Cubs’ shortstop for the next decade right now. Báez cant be treated like everyone else because he’s a mythical creature to whom normal rules don’t really apply. Jason “Professor” Parks — a Twitter legend who went from blogging to Baseball Prospectus to the Cubs front office to the Diamondbacks’ director of pro scouting — famously called Báez a “unicorn” and said he could be a religion.
Deities don’t come cheap, but an extension wouldn’t go into effect until next season and wouldn’t impact the Cubs’ current financial restrictions. Those concerns actually make a better case for getting a deal done now. Javy is well on his way to another monster season, which will raise his asking price even further. So the prudent financial decision would be to get a deal done as soon as possible rather than waiting for the winter.
Another factor that could make a deal possible in the near term is the Cubs good working relationship with Báez’s agents. He is represented by the Wasserman Group, which also represents teammate Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks just signed a four-year contract extension this March, at which time CI’s Evan Altman pointed out that some players’ representation might make new deals easier to negotiate.
Colorado’s third baseman is represented by the Wasserman Group, which counts both Javy Baez and Kyle Hendricks among its clientele. Neither is likely to command the figures we’ve been talking about to this point, but the idea is that both are likely open to signing extensions. Or at least they’re more likely to do so than Boras clients, which I guess isn’t really saying much.
While the financial arguments and the agent relationships are important, I still come back to that Parks quote. Javy is truly a once-in-a-lifetime talent, there is no player like him. He electrifies everyone that watches his, so to not ensure he plays his whole career in a Cubs uniform feels like front office malpractice.
I’m not comfortable with the thought that there is even a chance he might not be the starting shortstop at the corner of Clark and Addison for the entirety of his prime years. Which means it’s time for the Cubs to break their rules for the magical unicorn, Ednel Javier Báez. Get it done, preferably yesterday.