Chicago Cubs won’t trade Javier Baez simply for the sake of change

(Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) /

In any other year, the Chicago Cubs would likely scoff at trading their most electric player, but with Theo Epstein’s reckoning looming, anything can happen.

The Chicago Cubs find themselves in a peculiar situation given the beyond lackluster end to the 2019 season.  Given the lack of organizational depth, the team almost needs to trade one of its marquee stars to fill its glaring holes.

Kris Bryant has often been rumored to be that marquee star, especially given that he stands to see the biggest raise in his contract come arbitration. Wilson Contreras also seems like a likely candidate given he’s young, controllable in the long-term, and has an obvious backup in Victor Caratini.

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Javier Baez, however, seems he should be like a lock to stay with the team given his performance over the last couple of years and his status as one of the faces of the team. He finished second in National League MVP voting in 2018 and continued his strong production in 2019, hitting for a respectable 113 OPS+.

Yet, Theo Epstein made it clear, once again, during a news conference after Joe Maddon’s departure had been finalized that he “doesn’t believe in untouchables.” Considering Baez didn’t sign an extension last offseason, the option is still open to trade him off while he’s still relatively cheap.

If the Cubs do, in fact, part with El Mago, what exactly would they be able to get for him that would make up for his loss? Baez is the one half of the middle infield that the team has locked down and there aren’t any quality reinforcements ready to take his place.

No doubt, Epstein has Baez’s price set high. If he is traded, it would have to address one or more of the major holes on the roster, particularly at second base or in the starting rotation.

Center field is also an area of need that could be addressed. The team had a great interest in the Royals’ Whit Merrifield at the trade deadline due to his ability to play second base and the outfield, but their price is high and a straight swap isn’t worth it.

Nico Hoerner could take over at shortstop if Baez left, but the expectation currently is that the two could man the infield together at some point in 2020. If, however, the Cubs sign someone like Howie Kendrick to play second, there is an argument to be made that the team can swap Baez to improve an area of greater need.

The thing is, I can’t realistically see this working out either. Hoerner needs time in Triple-A to further develop and losing Baez would practically force the team’s hand in rushing him to the majors.

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If anything, this statement from Epstein feels less like a likelihood and more like a matter-of-fact statement. Maybe all of this changes if Baez and his agency can’t reach an agreement on an extension with the Chicago Cubs this offseason, but for now, it feels highly unlikely and impractical to move the star shortstop over any of his peers.