UPDATE: According to Evan Petzold of the Free Press, the deal is for six years and $140 million, with an opt-out included. Jim Bowden has also reported that the Tigers and Baez have agreed on a seven-year deal. We’ll trust Evan on the details here, but it sounds like the deal is done.
ORIGINAL STORY: Late on the wire, and early Tuesday morning, Jon Morosi of MLB Network reported that the Detroit Tigers were now close to signing free agent infielder Javier Báez. The club was known to be in talks with the long-time Cubs star over the weekend, but has not confirmed the report as of this writing. There have been a lot of rumors flying over the past week, but Morosi is one of the most trusted at breaking real stories. So we’re taking this one as highly likely to happen.
Morosi goes on to note that his sources say the deal is for six years. FanGraphs had projected a likely contract of four years, $80 million for the 29-year-old infielder. However, the Texas Rangers kicked their way into the market by blowing away contract projections in signing Marcus Semien and Corey Seager to huge long-term contracts. This signing reflects the market rate for the shortstop position in what has been a surprising show of pre-lockout spending power from certain MLB owners.
As has been noted in our ongoing debates here on the site, Báez is not one of the real impact bats of the group of free agent shortstops available. The two-time All-Star will bring the thump, but he’s not the pure hitter Carlos Correa or Corey Seager is. Hence forecasts for a substantially lesser deal than either for Báez. On the other hand, he would represent a likely 2-3 win—the Steamer projection system projects a league average 2 WAR season for Báez in 2022— upgrade for the Tigers in 2022, after getting below replacement production at the position last season. In 2021, Báez was worth 3.6 wins by FanGraphs WAR calculation.
Báez can be a frustrating player to watch, because in so many ways he’s uniquely gifted, yet the overall results tend to be average to good rather than great. A fine defender at either middle infield position, who is perhaps underrated by defensive statistics for some of the added value he provides around second base, he also brings an element of speed, and 30 home run power to boot.
What he doesn’t do particularly well, is make a lot of contact and get on base. With the Tigers, you might look for a few more hits to drop in Comerica Park than elsewhere. And with big-time power, the Tigers’ home park probably isn’t going to cheat Báez of his blasts. Still the fact remains that his strikeout rate has gotten out of control in recent years, and he doesn’t draw many walks. If that trend continues to develop, the Tigers could be stuck with a player down the road whose only attribute is defense, and that doesn’t tend to hold up well into a player’s mid-thirties.
In 2021, Báez posted a .261 batting average and .319 on-base percentage, while mashing 31 home runs and stealing 18 bases. However his strikeout rate popped to a career high at a rather ghastly 33.6 percent, while he walked at well below average 5.1 percent clip. Báez will absolutely crush plenty of dingers. He’ll beat out extra hits and take extra bases with his legs. He’s an aggressive, high energy player who produces magic one minute, and then gives you an 0-for-10 stretch with eight punchouts. Alternately frustrating and brilliant, we can only hope that the coaching staff can refine his approach at the plate just a little, and the Tigers will have struck gold. Just don’t expect him to be more than he is.
We’ll have to see confirmation from the two parties and the final terms before making any firm judgements. Báez is a special player and will be a lot of fun to watch in a Tigers’ uniform, but obviously the cost has to play a role in evaluating such a deal. If this turns out to be the deal, all eyes will immediately turn to whether signing Báez instead of one of the bigger names allows the Tigers to aggressively pursue some more pitching talent this offseason. Despite not adding a huge middle of the order bat, the Tigers could parlay the savings into shorter term help for their rotation and bullpen, and overall this would be a pretty satisfying offseason, if not quite what the fanbase was looking for.