Former Cubs star Javier Baez benched after pair of lackadaisical mistakes
By Jake Misener
To say the 2023 season isn't off to the best of starts for Javier Baez might be the understatement of the century.
The 30-year-old infielder hasn't just been bad - he's been the worst player in all of baseball, with a -28 wRC+ on the year. That's right - negative 28. He entered Thursday's contest against the Blue Jays batting .100/.163/.100, despite a vastly improved strikeout rate. The problem is he's not hitting for any power, evidenced by a .000 ISO on the year and 0.0% barrel rate.
Cubs fans divided on Javier Baez and his woes since joining the Tigers
If all that weren't bad enough, Baez was benched mid-game by Tigers manager AJ Hinch in Toronto Thursday after a pair of mental gaffes that quickly compounded on one another. First, Baez connected on what he thought was his first home run of the season. The only problem being... it wasn't a home run. The ball stayed in the yard and he wound up with a double (his first of the year, so there's that at least).
OK, that's pretty not great. Especially for a guy Detroit gave a six-year, $140 million deal in free agency prior to the 2022 season who proceeded to fall well shy of expectations in his first year with the team. But it quickly got worse for Baez, who pretty clearly had no clue how many outs there were in the inning and proceeded to get doubled off second.
Hinch had seen enough from Baez at that point. The two reportedly exchanged words, Baez untucked his jersey and headed down the tunnel at Rogers Centre. It's a really bad look for a guy who was brought in to be a veteran leader and sparkplug for a Tigers team that's supposed to be turning the corner on its lengthy rebuild.
A lot of folks believed new Tigers president of baseball operations Scott Harris (another Cubs tie in this tangled ball of yarn, as a former Chicago baseball ops guy) might cut ties with Baez last winter - but if you look at his numbers, he wasn't that bad (90 wRC+ and 2.0 fWAR in 2022). But, suffice to say, if Baez continues down the path he's walking early on this year, it becomes a far more feasible scenario.
Cubs fans seem pretty divided on what to make of Baez' struggles in a Tigers uniform. You have one contingent who look at this and say it's just Javy being Javy - a guy who can go from ice-cold to scorching hot on a dime and has always been a feast or famine player. Others think that with his physical tools perhaps a touch below where they were when he was in his mid-20s, this is the new normal for Baez.
It's too soon to tell which side of the argument is in the right. But one thing's for sure. A healthy Baez at his best is must-see TV. And we haven't bore witness to that, at least not on a regular basis, in some time.