I’ve cracked the case, you guys: Javier Baez is getting traded and I’ve got proof. The front office has been trying to keep this a secret for months, but I’m here to expose the conspiracy. I even had to dig into some Spanish-language sites to get you the full scoop. If you don’t hear from me after this article goes up, know that it’s up to you to tell the world my story, and the story of Baez’s 2015-16 offseason.
Let’s start at the beginning: Baez’s 2015 season. We’ve already recapped it here, but the gist is this: the Cubs’ goal for Baez in 2015 was to help other teams forget about his major-league debut, when he slashed .169/.227/.324 with a naughty 41.5 percent strikeout rate. Sure, he was just 21 years old—but those would be scary numbers for any top prospect, regardless of Baez’s impressive power.
In that sense, the 2015 season was a success for the young Puerto Rican. Despite tribulations in his personal life and a wrist injury, he managed to put up a robust .328/.391/.521 slash line at Triple-A. In the major leagues, he slashed .289/.325/.408 (along with an improved 30 percent strikeout rate) in only 76 at bats—and also did this (to the Cardinals, no less):
Time to trade him while his stock is high, right? After all, everyone knew the Cubs wanted a young, cost-controlled starter, and Baez seemed like the perfect bait. This was their chance to offload all those strikeouts and exchange them for some pitching. But we all know how clever this front office is, so they decided to push things even further. At some shadowy meeting in the bowels of Wrigley Field, they decided to make Baez even more valuable. They would have Baez become a center fielder, and then trade him. Let me tell you how they did it.
They had a perfect cover story: there was a gaping hole in center when Dexter Fowler became a free agent, and Baez looked athletic enough to pull it off. And, of course, reigning Manager of the Year Joe Maddon could be counted upon to use him appropriately. It was a perfect plan: Baez would play winter ball in Puerto Rico (where he was born) and play center field. By the time spring training rolled around, he’d be ready to play anywhere Maddon (or any other team) desires.
With all that accomplished, this former top prospect with ungodly power would now potentially be able play anywhere in the field and probably play it very well—and the Cubs’ leverage in any trade involving Baez skyrocketed. Here’s a shot of Epstein one of my sources sent me during this time:
Of course, once they’d decided on this, the Cubs got serious about their real plans—they signed free agents Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward, filling in two of the positions Baez would’ve presumably played. Not a problem, the front office said, Maddon will find a way to work him in. Don’t worry about it—nothing to see here!
But Baez’s brother wasn’t too happy (Spanish, translation my own) about the situation, and he wasn’t shy about speaking up:
“He understands that this is a business. But, obviously, he’d like to stay with the Cubs. They told him that he’d practice playing in the outfield in winter ball, but they go and sign these two players for more than 200 million dollars, so I don’t understand. But, like I told him, ‘If they trade you, they’re not trading you because they’re down on your abilities. That’s the way this is. It’s a business.’”
After that, Baez went down to Puerto Rico to get comfortable in center field, right? Well, that’s what they want you to believe! Here’s (Spanish) an unsuspecting Baez being a good soldier about the whole thing:
“In center field, I can relax and focus on hitting. I thought it was going to be hard or different, but in one game I had seven fly balls hit my way and I caught them all—it was routine. I feel very good there.”
Awesome quote for the Cubs, because now Baez can at least be in the same sentence as “center field” without it sounding totally unfounded, right? After all, he went to Puerto Rico to specifically work on that one thing. Didn’t he? Because the hitting certainly wasn’t impressive: he hit .244 with 2 home runs, 9 walks, and 21 strikeouts in 24 games. (You’ll notice that my numbers and the numbers on his official page differ, and that’s because my numbers include all his at bats, including the playoffs.)
But that hardly matters, because center field was the priority during this winter-league stint, right? Well, kind of. I went through every single box score that Baez was in, and out of the 24 games he appeared in, he only played center field 4 times (and his .214 average while playing in center didn’t support his more “relaxed” approach). I don’t care how much people gush about a player’s abilities—it’s still just four games!
Does all this seem a little too far out? A little too paranoid? It’s not like the storyline includes Baez helping young kids out of the kindness of his heart to boost his good-guy persona, right?
Oh wait—he did that too (Spanish: long story short is he participated in an event put together by Twins prospect Jose Berrios where they held a tournament and practice sessions for young players from Puerto Rico, which is a very nice thing to have done).
Aren’t those same hairs on the back of your neck that Making a Murderer stoked going crazy? Are you tired of my incessant, never-ending questions and italicized accusations?
Hold on—there are other signs that justify my paranoia: the Cubs just signed Munenori Kawasaki to a minor league deal, and he’s a guy that can back up at shortstop and anywhere else in the infield. Also, Kawasaki is hilarious and loved by all—the perfect antidote to soothe Cubs fans when Baez finally gets traded!
— Julie DiCaro (@JulieDiCaro) January 21, 2016
I get it, you guys: it would be nice to have Baez on the bench just in case a major injury happens (I’ve made that case myself before), but think about it: are the Cubs better off with a solid bench player “just in case” something happens, or are they better off with a talented, young, cost-controlled pitcher that can take over when Jason Hammel and John Lackey are gone?
While you think about that, I’m going to go see who’s knocking at my door—it’s really late for someone to…
(Disclaimer: In case it isn’t abundantly clear, I’m having a little fun in this piece and in no way am insinuating there’s a conspiracy going on at the highest levels of a major-league organization. Baez might be traded, and he might not be, as needs and circumstances dictate. If he was traded, though, this is how the offseason might be perceived by a conspiratorial mind.)
Lead photo courtesy Jerry Lai—USA Today Sports.