When I first saw Javier Baez in a live game, I wrote my observations. I started that article with this sentence,
Javier Baez has a tattoo of the MLB logo on the back of his neck and walks with the confident swagger of a guy who fully intends to be there one day.
Yesterday, he took a big step toward that goal by playing the position many think he will play at the MLB level -- second base. Late last night during our recaps, we mentioned that it was not a one time thing. Baez will play there for the next several days, according to Iowa manager Marty Pevey.
"Next several days" probably means that, barring unforeseen circumstances, he will play there the rest of the year. Why switch him for a few days and then switch him back?
The move had to be calculated. The Cubs had to know the firestorm of attention it would bring, After all, there was quite a bit of stirring when Arismendy Alcantara played CF at Iowa for the first time. With all due respect to Alcantara, who is a wonderful prospect in his own right, a Baez switch is on a whole different level. It clearly signals two things: 1) the Cubs have no intention of moving Castro right now and 2) the Cubs are preparing Baez for what should be the position he plays in his MLB career.
But when does that start?
How about September?
Wait, wait, wait...didn't I just warn everyone about calling guys up too early and how it might cost the Cubs money and control in the long run?
Yes that still stands, of course. But there are ways around such things.
Javier Baez just wants to play and he wants to play at the highest level possible because he's that good and he's that driven.
"What we probably underestimated a little bit was how much Javy loves to play the game, and how much he loves to compete." said McLeod
“His mindset’s different,” Hyde said. “I think he realizes how close he is. He is playing with a lot more confidence than he did last spring and with more determination. (He’s) a pro now. He understands what it takes.”
Now Hyde was talking about what it takes on the field in this instance, but Baez has learned that this isn't just about him. It is about the organization. Some of us may have cringed when the subject of switching positions came up. Javier Baez took it in stride and even chimed in with his preference, which was and is 2B.
Whatever it takes.
But the financial questions remain. Is it really worth costing the Cubs a year of control?
The answer is no. But it doesn't have to. The Cubs could arrange a situation with Baez where he can get his first taste of the majors this year with the understanding that he will go back to Iowa next spring to finish the development process. It could push him back into a mid May call-up, much like another former SS phenom named Starlin Castro back in 2010.
The other solution is a pre-arranged extension deal, similar to what the Astros have done with top prospects George Springer and Jon Singleton. That way Javier could come up to stay for good in September as long as he is willing to let the Cubs buy out at least a year of free agency -- and probably more than one to make it worth their while.
The question then is this: Would it be worth it for Javier Baez?
For one thing, we know he very badly wants to do play in the major leagues and if that means sacrificing a bit down the road in exchange for security today, then he may be willing to make that trade. It was certainly important enough to Castro and Anthony Rizzo for them to make that choice.
And don't forget this: behind the brash exterior lies a good kid who is very loyal to his family. He would probably like nothing more than to be able to take care of them for the rest of their lives, particularly his sister, who needs constant medical care. Maybe having that security now is more important to him then worrying about what happens 6 years from now. I don't know that, of course, That is a decision Baez needs to make for himself and his family -- and no one else.
In the end, though, the decision will have to be about baseball. Baez has improved every year he has been in the minors and even his "down year" at Iowa has been a learning experience. He has learned to make adjustments and how to work counts more consistently. With the help of Manny Ramirez and a new emphasis on studying video, he has a better idea of how more experienced pitchers are trying to get him out -- or perhaps more accurately, how they plan on making Baez get himself out.
He is taking the final steps right now toward fulfilling that lifelong goal of becoming a big league ballplayer. He has come a long way from the kid I saw in Peoria who was still unsure about how to conduct himself around the game and how to reign in that competitive fire. Baez is still learning his place on the baseball field, both in terms of his ultimate position and his place in the grand game itself. It's easy to forget he is still just a 21 year old kid trying to grow up and learn his way in all aspects of life. The learning process is far from over. He is going to make mistakes and probably quite a few of them. But from what I have seen from Baez over the past 3 years, he will learn quickly. We may not have to wait much longer until he gets to continue that learning process on a major league baseball diamond.
We already know Baez will do whatever it takes to get (and stay) there.
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