Why signing Javier Baez was a good move for the Detroit Tigers

When news broke late last night that the Detroit Tigers were in negotiations, and “close,” to a contract with star shortstop, Javier Baez, naturally feelings were mixed. On the one hand, the Tigers spent money on a good player, but the best player at that position was still available. So how should we as Tigers fans feel about the move that was made?

Let’s start with the specifics. Baez turns 29 on December 1 and signed a six-year, $140 million deal to be the new Tigers shortstop. That deal comes with an opt-out after year 2, going his age 32 season. Does he potentially opt-out? No one knows the answer to that right now; it’s not even something worth wasting brainpower on currently. What we have to decide is whether or not this was a good deal for the Tigers.

From the beginning of this off-season, Carlos Correa was always at the top of the wish list for Detroit. But, was that always the best move? It seems apparent, especially since Corey Seager signed for 10-years and $325 million, that a larger Brinks Truck was going to be needed for Correa to sign on the dotted line; not because it’s “Detroit” but anywhere. There is a reason three of the five top shortstops have already signed, including the looming lockout tomorrow night, but Correa has not; mainly it is the number he is seeking.

Regardless of where Correa signs, which could still potentially be the Tigers—though highly unlikely—Javier Baez is a Tiger. What can he bring to the table for the Old English D? For starters, he saved them a number of years tied to an aging player and over at least $180 million, using the deal Seager received as reference.

What is lost in the muck and mire of this free agency class is just how good of a talent Baez is as a ballplayer. Do his antics and “showboating” turn some off? Sure. But since the beginning of the off-season, he was a name the Tigers should have targeted. He’s a slick-fielding, power-hitting shortstop. Additionally, he’s a versatile shortstop that has played corner outfield positions, third base, first base, and second base, but this is not why he was signed—nor will the Tigers use him in a versatile role. Unless they pull off some kind of crazy, out-of-left-field move—like signing Correa too—he’s going to be the Tigers shortstop.

On the field, Baez was a 4.5 WAR player in 2021 hitting .261/.319/.494 with 31 home runs and 87 RBI. And while he does boast of a 29.8% K rate, and only draws walks at a 4.8% clip for his career, after being traded to the Mets last July he improved these numbers via a new approach—his K rate dipped from 36.3% with the Cubs to 28.5% with the Mets and his walk rate increased from 4.2% to 7.0% respectively. Additionally, according to Fangraphs writer, Ben Clemens,

“Projection systems are down on Báez’s long-term offensive value, though to different extents. Steamer projects him for a .242/.289/.444 line next year, which is good for a 95 wRC+. ZiPS has a higher opinion of Báez by a fair margin, but still thinks he’ll be OBP-challenged. It also thinks he’ll age fairly well, which makes the deal look better for Detroit than you might first expect”

Having discussed the worst aspect of his game, which really isn’t that terrible, it’s important to discuss the HUGE strength which is his glove. Baez can be a walking highlight reel. As mentioned, he has played every position except pitcher, catcher, and centerfield. As a shortstop, his primary position, he has 3 DRS in 2021 and won a Gold Glove in the COVID-shortened 2020 season. However, in 2019 he had a remarkable 31 defensive runs saved.

While he is not Correa, the Tigers did well, and fans should be excited. For the foreseeable future what the Tigers did was sign a Silver Slugger, Gold Glover, NLCS MVP, and World Champion shortstop. They saved money, which may be to the chagrin of some fans, but there are still other free agents on the table. Could it possibly be that the Tigers are taking a 2-for-1 approach? Maybe, time will tell. But for now, all Tiger fans can do is salute El Mago—the magician—and look forward to him taking the field in the Old English D. And, the best news of all: this signing, along with the other moves made thus far show the light is closer at the end of the tunnel for this rebuild than may be expected or thought–and that’s reason enough to look forward to the beginning of next season.

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