After unsuccessful attempts to trade for him, the front office finally added Ben Zobrist to the roster last week. But one Ben Zobrist might not be enough for the Cubs.
The Cubs have placed a high-value on position flexibility and versatility. Joe Maddon does not use set lineups and prefers to move players around the field in order to keep them as fresh as possible as the season wears on. Maddon also likes having the ability to mix and match at the end of games and the more players he has that can play multiple positions the better.
Maddon wanted Javier Baez to begin the season a year ago on the Major League roster in large part because of his defense. Maddon was unable to persuade the front office to put Baez on the 25-man roster and he was optioned out.
When Baez returned in September, he was much more controlled at the plate and provided excellent defense at second and third base and did a good job at shortstop filling in for Addison Russell. Baez is working with Doug Dascenzo in Puerto Rico on playing center field, but he’s yet to see any time in the outfield in winter ball.
Javier Baez appears to be a big part of the Cubs’ plans for next season. By trading Starlin Castro to the Yankees, Baez is the only backup for Addison Russell at shortstop. And his ability to play all four infield spots and possibly centerfield give Maddon options and provides the team with insurance in the event of injury.
After the Cubs signed Ben Zobrist, Jed Hoyer talked about Javier Baez and shared his thoughts on how the team may utilize him next season during an interview on MLB Network Radio.
“I think Javy in some ways may well be Ben Zobrist. I think he may move all over the diamond,” Hoyer said. “He played a great third base last year. He played short a lot, especially when Addison Russell got hurt in the playoffs. He can play second. He is actually playing center field right now down in Puerto Rico.”
“This guy can really play defense. He can play all over the place. I think if we have an injury he will go play that position for a long time. But if we don’t have injuries I think we will move him around the diamond.”
“In some ways I think it might be the best way to break into the big leagues,” Hoyer said. “His strength right now is defense, his baserunning instincts, obviously the power is great. I think he still has some work to do at the plate and he knows that. I think being able to move around the diamond and help the team win so much, I think sort of relaxes you a little bit. I think he may well be Zobrist.”
Joe Maddon put Baez in situations to succeed last September and October. Baez produced at the plate and surprised those that had already written him off. Baez hit .289/.325/.408 in 28 games with six doubles and a home run for a .733 OPS. Baez walked four times with 24 strikeouts in 76 at bats.
Teams have asked about Baez this winter and it appears the Rays targeted him in discussions with the Cubs for pitching. Baez seems to provide more value to the Cubs right now than what he would help bring back as part of a package for controllable starting pitching.
Javier Baez may be Zobrist-esque next season in the field. If Baez can produce a similar line over a full year to the one he did in 28 games last season, the Cubs will have an incredible valuable two-way player that is only 23 years old and Hoyer’s prediction would become a reality.