Cubs: Javier Baez isn’t the long-term answer we once thought he was

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images /

About two months ago, Cubs shortstop Javier Baez looked like the likeliest member of the team’s core to get an extension.Baez and the Cubs had seemingly made strides toward a new contract prior to the COVID-19 prompted shutdown in 2020, though nothing got done at the time.

Buster Olney of ESPN reported Sunday the two-time All-Star had turned down an offer in the neighborhood of $180 million before that season got underway (subscription required). Now, Olney is not so convinced the Cubs will end up extending Baez, who is in his final season of arbitration.

Cubs need to start thinking about alternatives at shortstop

Look, practically the entirety of the Cubs lineup is struggling. It’s also still quite early in the season. A lot can happen between now and July or September.

But the reality is this: Baez has not proven himself capable of making necessary adjustments at the dish.

The 28-year-old came into Tuesday’s game leading all of baseball with 27 strikeouts. He then had a “golden sombrero” in the series opener against the Mets, repeatedly missing fastballs in the zone and chasing both up and away.

Baez’s whiff percentage ranks at the very bottom of the league, per Baseball Savant. That’s not good to begin with, but it’s even worse when considering he also has one of the highest swing rates in baseball and walked just eight times in his last 299 plate appearances.

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The issue is Baez has always been this guy. He has a tendency to get long. The swing rate is well over 54 percent for his career; it was actually a career-high 57.7 percent during his runner-up MVP season.

This hitting style is not very conducive to success with Baez now struggling to punish fastballs. Perhaps of greater consequence, as far as extensions are concerned, said style really does not bode well in terms of longevity. What happens when Baez’s bat speed starts to decline?

The reality is the Cubs need to begin sketching out plans for the future of the shortstop position.

Baez can slug and be a menace on the bases. He is one of the best defensive infielders in the sport. But the 2020 and now 2021 versions of Baez are not worth a major investment.

You know who else plays exceptional defense? Andrelton Simmons, who will be a free agent again this upcoming offseason and is routinely one of the better contact hitters in baseball.

Chicago’s front office has repeatedly stressed the need for for a more contact-oriented approach, yet continues to rely on the same group of players to make adjustments. Bringing in someone like Simmons would really move the needle in terms of establishing a new offensive philosophy.

Or, perhaps the Cubs still want to spend big at short. Fine, perhaps they would be better off throwing money at the likes of Corey Seager, Trevor Story or Carlos Correa.

Regardless, it is becoming more and more evident that Baez refuses to change at the dish, with pitchers around the league following all too familiar formulas to get whiffs out of the Cubs shortstop.

Next. Cubs starters are struggling, too. dark

Jed Hoyer and Co. need to start thinking of shortstop alternatives rather than locking themselves into a deal with a guy whose style simply won’t age well.