Detroit Tigers shortstop Javier Báez made a boner on the basepaths last Thursday against the Blue Jays in Toronto that warranted a benching, which appears to have given the team a collective kick in the pants.
With one out in the second inning of a scoreless game, the 10-year veteran launched a drive to right field, taking a moment to admire his results before realizing it was not going over the fence. He did, however, make it to second ahead of the throw to set up the scoring threat, essentially erasing the lack of hustle — but it seems it was foreshadowing for the next turn of events.
Akil Baddoo then lifted a fairly deep fly ball to centerfield which may or may not have been deep enough for Báez to tag up and advance. But instead, the blunderful shortstop took off on contact as if there were two outs and was ultimately doubled up to end the inning. If you are counting, that was two mental mistakes over the course of something like five minutes.
Hinch sent Báez back out following the mistake to play defense in the bottom half of the frame but was then pulled from the game after a talk between the two in the tunnel in between innings. While baserunning has been a general problem for the team, the buck had to stop somewhere, and what better person could that be than a well-accomplished veteran?
Well, it appears that whatever fire was lit under Báez and the rest of the team worked, as the Tigers prevailed in that game against the Jays, 3-1, to prevent the sweep and went on to grind out a pair of extra-inning wins back at home against the San Francisco Giants for a weather-shortened two-game sweep. Suddenly, this team is quite watchable.
Which brings us to this week’s Bless You Boys roundtable discussion.
In our Week 3 edition of the BYB roundtable, our staff members were asked, “What do you think of Javy Báez’s benching and the subsequent results we’ve seen since?” Take a look below at our respective responses.
Mr. Sunshine: Fan of the benching, too soon to see if it sticks. He clearly didn’t seem to be in the right headspace yet.
Brady McAtamney: As soon as it happened, I publicly said that he should be benched. I’m glad it happened, and so far, it clearly seems like it worked. I hope what we’ve seen from him since isn’t a fluke, but if he’s truly been shell-shocked into the right mindset via a rude awakening, then I’m thrilled.
Brandon Day: I think someone needed to be benched considering the way they’ve played, and specifically on the basepaths. Javy and Hinch seem to have a pretty good relationship. Whatever you might hope about the opt-out, they’re in this together for the long haul right now, and I thought it was good of Hinch to spend a week of his offseason with Javy in Puerto Rico getting to know each other well. So, I don’t think there was much chance of fallout from the move.
I also don’t tend to get too worked up about these kinds of “turning point” moments. They can motivate for a little while, but the team was also bound to start playing better. They aren’t nearly as bad as some of those first series looked. Hopefully, the benching sent a message that if Javy can be held accountable, they all can, and that’s the point. Not sure it will have some major, long-lasting effect. Javy has been through this before and the occasional brain fart game just comes with the territory.
But what the team needed was to win a few games in a row, have some fun, and prove to themselves that they’re in every game and need to battle them out. Hopefully, as a team-building exercise, this was a net positive and they’re starting to develop something of a group identity here.
Peter Kwasniak: It was the right decision. Hinch wanted to send a message to Báez and the rest of the team that half-ass play isn’t gonna fly. While it’s not the infamous Leyland closed-door chewing out, it feels very similar in its timing early in the year after sloppy play. The message seems to have gotten through as Torkelson told reporters that if Báez can be benched, anyone can be benched.
This is the kind of accountability that is going to be needed to play respectable and hopefully watchable baseball for the rest of the year. So far, it’s been good in an extremely small sample size of two and a half games. Now it needs to continue for the next 148 games.
Adam Dubbin: The way I see it, the pair of Báez blunders absolutely deserved a benching regardless. Clearly, his head was not in the game and it doesn’t matter at that point if there was negligence involved. He needed to be removed to allow him to get his head straight — just as anyone should.
The bigger question for me is if and how the move will help the team and I think the results so far indicate that yes, the Tigers seem to have a bit more bite since the incident. Heck, they’ve won three in a row and Báez managed to bounce back nicely.
So the problem moving forward is whether or not Javy can keep steady without having to become a goat to get everyone hating on him. At least his teammates have read the writing on the wall — which makes this bigger than just one overpaid player.
Cameron Kaiser: The move to bench Báez for his base running blunder was warranted, as it would be warranted for anyone who was playing with his head so far up his rear end. Mistakes are part of the game, but the rate at which mental mistakes were happening to the Tigers last week was reaching an unacceptable level. Hinch had no choice but to make an example out of someone.
With Báez in particular though, he’s a veteran and a world champion, and not to mention one of the highest-paid players on the team. The tolerance for mistakes from players of his caliber is very low. His non-existent performance at the plate most definitely played a role as well, and I think it’s absolutely okay for a manager to call a player out in a healthy manner, which seems to be what Hinch did. He took him into the tunnel for a private conversation, and that was that.
Javier Báez is a much better baseball player than what his start to the season indicates, and since the benching, he’s looked much more like the Báez of old. We’ll never know if the benching kicked him back into gear, plus it’s only been a couple of games so who knows if the turnaround is even real? Regardless, he’s looked much more locked in since the benching, so it certainly didn’t hurt.
David Rosenberg: Báez needed his ego knocked down a notch and Hinch needed to send a message to the team. Things have gone pretty well since, but it’s only been two games so pump the brakes on any reading into things you might be doing. The rest of the team now knows that anyone can get benched for not giving their full attention to the game, and missing a few at-bats isn’t going to ruin the relationship between coach and player. It was a good move by Hinch that (so far) has paid off and provided some hope for a fanbase that desperately needed it.
Let’s see how he handles Cleveland, though... if the games ever get played.
Les Lim: Can you imagine if Javy had had a problem with it? Joe Nathan would’ve had to step down as the most-reviled Tigers player ever.
Peter: Who’s on the Mt. Rushmore of the most-loathed Tiger player by Tiger fans?
Adam: That question, my friend, is for another week.
Tell us how you feel about the recent benching of Báez, along with how it has and will affect the team both in the short and long term.