Chicago Cubs: The reversal of roles for Zobrist and Baez
Two Chicago Cubs on different paths could meet at second base–or third base, or maybe in the outfield. Super utility man Ben Zobrist, meet version 2.0–Javier Baez.
Here in 2016, the Chicago Cubs have potentially one of the best super utility guys in baseball. Ben Zobrist, you say? No. Not this year. After a career of being that “guy”–and a few seasons for Joe Maddon–Zobrist looks to have a permanent home at second base. No, this season that utility player could be the once future shortstop Javier Baez.
In his time in the Cubs’ system, Baez has proven to be one of the best position players in the system, and one of the best defensively. He’s been noted as having one of the most violent and aggressive swings in the game since Gary Sheffield–but he has yet to put it together for an extended period of time in Chicago.
Zobrist, on the other hand, has seen his trajectory go in a less usual path. Often players earn an everyday spot, and over time adjust to being a utility guy to help score more playing time where they can. For Zobrist, he’s finally getting a chance to settle in at second base for the Cubs–not that Maddon isn’t going to have the final say with that. The man asked Kyle Schwarber if he could play third last season. Schwarber said yes, although he had never played the position in his life.
The path of these two could lead to a spectacular combination for the Cubs. Baez has spent some time this winter in center field, learning another position to go along with his ability to be an above-average shortstop, second baseman, and third baseman. Baez is who Zobrist was, and Zobrist is playing where most expected Baez to be–although when he made his debut it was expected to be alongside Starlin Castro. My how things have changed.
Last season, Baez hit .289 while slugging .408 and posting an OPS of .733. He did that without the benefit of the long ball, in which he only hit one in his 76 plate appearances. He added another key home run in the NLDS against the Cardinals while filling in for Addison Russell. His stroke at the plate seemed more controlled, picking his counts to “swing away” while cutting down on his strikeout numbers.
Next: Dealing with regression in 2016
For Zobrist, the majority of his games over the past five seasons have come at second base, but he’s continued to show his versatility at 34 years old. Now with the Cubs, the veteran will get his chance to play second base every day while the younger Baez looks to assume Zobrist’s old role of moving around the diamond.
With the key pickups the Cubs made this offseason, Baez locking down that utility role out of Spring Training could still end up being one of the best “additions” of the winter.