The Chicago Cubs are proceeding cautiously when it comes to infielder Javier Baez and his injured heel – and, really, there’s no reason not to.
There have been no shortage of injuries for the Chicago Cubs this season, namely in the bullpen. But they’ve lost several key position players, as well, but none so quite as notable as shortstop Javier Baez, who injured his heel making a play in Sunday night’s victory over the Washington Nationals.
Manager Joe Maddon held Baez out of the lineup on Monday, but left the door open for a potential late-game entry, possibly as a pinch hitter. But on Tuesday afternoon, the Cubs skipper announced Baez would miss Tuesday night’s contest, as well, marking the first two games of the year where the Puerto Rican standout hasn’t started for Chicago.
"“He was still sore yesterday,” Maddon said on 670 WSCR AM. “I just need to get a little more detail from the trainers today. But he’s not awful by any means, but it’s just something we really want to be careful with so it does not become prolonged. This guy’s way too valuable to us over the course of an entire season to worry about one game in May.”"
Maddon really hits it on the head in his comments. Yes, a season can come down to a game. We all understand that. But pushing Baez back too soon and risking losing arguably their biggest weapon for a prolonged stretch could throw the Cubs’ season off the rails in a hurry.
Last year’s National League MVP runner-up has picked up right where he left off, doing it all for the first-place Cubs. In 198 plate appearances, Baez has actually been better than he was in 2018, outpacing his 131 wRC+ with a 149 mark to this point. Now, maintaining that over the course of 162 games is another matter, but based on the last year-plus, we have no reason to doubt his ability to do so.
Strikeouts have always been a big flaw in Baez’ game – and that likely won’t change any time soon. He’s managed to keep his strikeout rate under 30 percent (hardly a ‘good’ mark, but it is what it is at this point) and he’s been using the whole field as he’s never done before this season, making him more lethal at the dish.
Defensively, his value is crystal clear. He’s one of the best defenders in all of Major League Baseball. In his stead, the recently reinstated Addison Russell is expected to hold down shortstop. Since returning from his suspension, Russell is batting .250 with a .724 OPS in 10 games.
Maddon also commented that he expected to limit Baez’ workload a bit more effectively moving forward, which also makes sense. There’s no point in keeping him in blowout games – no matter which way they’re falling.
"“I’ve already had that conversation with him about taking him out of bad games,” Maddon said. “I said, ‘I just want to get you off your feet whenever I can.'”"
Rest him when you can and proceed with caution in the meantime. Sure, we’d all like to see Javier Baez bring his magic to the diamond in all 162 games, but the simple truth is this. Without a healthy El Mago in the middle of the order, this Chicago Cubs team lacks the firepower it’ll need for another deep October run.