Javier Báez is your new Detroit Tigers shortstop, and let’s just say our feelings about this are complicated. The six-year, $140 million deal should be finalized this evening, as Báez was reportedly in Lakeland today for his physical, the final step to wrapping and signing the contract prior to the 11:59 p.m. EST deadline on Wednesday night, at which point the owners will institute a lockout.
At BYB we’ve made no secret that we expected the Tigers to land a big-time player at the shortstop position this offseason. The need was painfully obvious. That the Tigers ultimately did almost precisely the minimum here has left everyone excited about the 2022 season, yet still rather lukewarm on both the deal, ownership, and the front office.
We’re not thrilled. We’re not upset. There is just a lingering sense that the Tigers may have done just enough to come close to a playoff berth without quite getting there. Still, all that is a long way off, and between a likely frenzy of signings whenever the CBA is resolved, and possibilities of a wait-and-see attitude that could lead the Tigers to a trade deadline deal next July, the 2022 Tigers are still a work in progress. Whatever comes we should be in for a very interesting and entertaining season, assuming the owners and players manage to play ball as scheduled.
For now, we’ll let the staff speak for themselves.
What is your reaction to the Javier Báez signing?
Patrick O’ Kennedy: Ultimately, the Báez signing will have to be viewed as part of the off season’s entire body of work. He is not the shortstop that most Tigers’ fans had hoped for, but he is an elite defender and at least a league average hitter who plays a critical position on the diamond. The obvious benefit is that he doesn’t cost $300 million, and they might be able to add another good player- perhaps a starting pitcher.
This could make the Tigers instant contenders in 2022, though. With Cleveland heading south, Detroit is in prime position to move above .500 and into second place in the AL Central. We know that the team posted a winning record after May 8 once they made a few key roster moves. With the likelihood that we will see playoff expansion to 12 or 14 teams as part of the new CBA (that’s the owners’ fondest wish), the Tigers should be right there, knocking on the playoff door. Only a couple of teams have made a bigger splash this off season so far, none of those being in the AL Central. Hopefully, there is more to come.
Adam Dubbin: For me it’s the 3.6 roentgen move: not great, not terrible. It absolutely represents an upgrade at the shortstop position from last season, but I’m not sold on Baez remaining there for longer than a season or two — which is fine, but also means he doesn’t represent a true solution at that key position long-term. Sure, Correa would have been a bigger splash but us Tigers fans have grown to temper our expectations since the passing of Mike Ilitch. I give the move an overall solid B grade.
Trevor Hooth: I don’t hate it. The Tigers didn’t have an answer at shortstop, plain and simple. The money and opt out are good. Correa would be been nice, but we as fans can’t control how much the front office is willing to spend, or where a free agent wants to play. The reaction to the news felt like a bit of an overreaction. Báez is not a bad player. The profile probably won’t age very well for a variety of reasons, so hopefully the 2 year out can work. It’s not the signing everyone wanted, but it’s far from one that should generate rage or be considered bad.
Peter Kwasniak: A couple weeks ago, I’m pretty sure I said I’d much rather have Kriedler at SS than sign Báez. I wanted Correa above all, would be satisfied with Story or Semien, and then a mile away was Kriedler, and a mile after that was Báez. Now that I’ve had time to process the information and actually dig into the stats of Javier Báez, instead of my recollections of his first few weeks of 2021 when I then traded him off my fantasy team, I’m cautiously looking forward to seeing him play.
He has his flaws. He strikes out too much, walks too little, and his overall profile has huge question marks as he starts to age, and his bat slows down. That said, he still is a threat every time he steps to the plate, does magical things with his glove and his feet, and can absolutely murder a hanging slider. He immediately becomes an impact hitter at the top of the lineup the Tigers desperately need, and his fire and emotion should quickly endear him to most fans.
His 2020 and early 2021 seasons look like a fluke, as after his trade to New York, he put up numbers more in line with his 2017-2019 seasons in Chicago. At 6 years and $140 million, he serves as an affordable star that won’t handcuff the organization for the next decade plus. That should allow for much more financial room to sign more help at other positions than Correa would have allowed. But that’s part of the key to this signing...
The Tigers MUST take advantage of this flexibility and not just pocket the difference between him and Correa. Rounding out the rotation and adding some bullpen help would go a long way towards completing the total offseason shopping list and putting a true contender on the field in 2022. Báez will be fun to watch and the more I think on it, the better I feel about this move. But there’s still work to be done to round out the team. Get it done, Al and Chris.
Adam: [Tolstoy has entered the chat]
Les Lim: May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shiftMay your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
And may you stay
May you stay forever young
or else we’ll cut you.
Patrick: The reason that Correa was a perfect fit is that shortstop is the one place where the Tigers have a glaring need. They can field a player at every other spot with a wRC+ of 100 or better, but they’re lacking a couple of star hitters. Correa was almost surely stuck on 10 years and $350 plus million, and Seager’s contract didn’t help loosen that any. So they still need a hitter or two, but the lineup suddenly is without any glaring holes, assuming that one of Riley Greene, Derek Hill, or even Victor Reyes (who led the team in wOBA after May 8 ) can step up.
John Marlatt: I’m good with it. Ilitch said he would spend money when it was time to. I was always nervous about that. It’s time to, and he is. I don’t know what the deal is with Correa and I understand the disappointment that it’s not him, but it’s not like Báez is some sort of bum. I’m not doing cartwheels in the street, but I’m certainly not unhappy with the signing. His strikeout rate sucks, but he’s gonna hit, he’s gonna play good defense, he’s gonna steal some bases, and it’s going to be fun. Fun is something I haven’t consistently experienced with this team in quite some time. I’m looking forward to it.
Brady McAtemney: I can’t get myself to be too excited about it. The whiffs, low walk rate and a bit of character issues put a damper on things. He’s obviously not who we wanted or necessarily close to that.
That said, there are positives. He’s a lot cheaper than Correa, so if we actually use those savings for another piece, the move retroactively gets better. He’s an exciting player, which could definitely provide some great moments. And it fills our biggest hole, instantly netting at least 2 WAR, hopefully more. I can see this move looking smarter down the line, but I could also see it quickly becoming a bit of an albatross.
Ashley MacLennan: I think it was always a long-shot that the Tigers would be willing to take on a $300+ million contract, and Correa was always going to be on the expensive side for them at this stage. They’ve turned a corner where they’re obviously willing to spend SOME money, but not all the money in the world, and Báez for $140 million over six years seems to be a really good price to talent ration. It’s a longer contract than I think anyone expected Báez to get (probably including Báez), but he’s going to be a heck of a lot of fun to watch out there. Overall, while not a blockbuster deal, it shows the Tigers are planning their long game and want to be competitive and it’s hard to be mad at that.
Rob Rogacki: I feel like I should be happier about this. The Tigers are spending again, and they just signed a big-time free agent that fills a major need on their roster. Báez is a massive upgrade over the Tigers’ shortstop situation from last season, and at the very least provides the type of floor they did not have with anyone else in the system. For the next couple years, he will play excellent defense, be a positive on the bases, and hit plenty of home runs.
Of all the shortstops available this offseason, Báez feels like one that won’t age particularly well. His issues with walks and strikeouts are well documented, and some of his plus attributes (quickness, baserunning, and bat speed) are ones that tend to fall off quicker than others. He righted the ship down the stretch with the Mets, but from 2020 to the trade deadline in 2021, he had roughly a full season’s worth of below-average performance at the plate with a strikeout rate approaching 35 percent. Most of this is from an awful 2020 season that was seemingly made worse by a lack of video access in the dugout, but it doesn’t exactly fill me with warm fuzzies, especially when better players are still available on the free agent market.
Jason Law: Báez is an upgrade, Rob. Would Correa have been better? Sure. Is Báez going to be the solution to all the Tigers’ problems? No. Do I enjoy making up questions and answering them? Obviously. He’ll be fine. He’ll be an important piece of a (hopefully) championship-contending team. Bat him 5th or 6th to hide some whiffs, stick him out at shortstop every day, let him earn his money. Apparently he made friends quickly on the Mets, so if nothing on the field goes right for him, at least he’s a nice guy off it.
Brandon Day: I’m not thrilled, but I’m content for the moment. It was never close to a sure thing that the Tigers could even sign Carlos Correa without completely blowing away the biggest offer out there, so I’m not shocked. However, Correa was the perfect solution. There wasn’t another one available. Whether we hoped for Trevor Story, Corey Seager, Javy Báez, or Marcus Semien, each has issues and flaws that made them less than ideal fits for the Tigers. Story’s arm remains a question mark, while Seager and Semien aren’t really good fits at the shortstop position even now. The latter two also received substantially more than most projected in their free agent deals with the Texas Rangers. That factor makes the Báez contract feel better, because my initial reaction to the terms was not a positive one. Báez is the least of the group at this point, but he has as much chance of being worth his full contract as any of them.
Obviously Báez is flawed as well. There’s a decent chance the Tigers won’t even get much surplus value out of his deal in the early years, with the possibility of a steep decline lurking in his chase rate and contact numbers. However, you don’t win with surplus value. You win with quality talent all over the diamond, and we’ve seen how the “stars and scrubs” approach can play out. Look no further than the Pittsburgh Pirates for a team that racks up as much surplus contract value as anyone in the game, other than the Tampa Bay Rays, and yet is rarely even competitive. The Tigers needed a big upgrade at the shortstop position, and they got it, expecting anywhere from two-to-four wins added at the position with Báez installed there for the next few seasons. The surplus value will have come from their stockpile of talented, cost-controlled young talent.
The goal this offseason wasn’t to sign the best free agent shortstop out there. It was to get the club to the point where, with a few breaks and continued strong work from the coaching staff, the Tigers would be in the playoff hunt. If signing Báez allows them to further fortify the pitching staff this offseason, I think that goal will be accomplished.