The Tigers filled one of their biggest positional needs in the early morning hours on Tuesday, but how does the signing grade out overall?
How It Happened
The Major League “hot stove” has been scorching to begin this week, likely due to teams trying to solidify their big signings before the potential labor lockout comes on Thursday. The market for shortstops heated up, starting with the signings of both Marcus Semien and Corey Seager by the Texas Rangers, forming one of the most formidable middle infields in the entire league. Hours before these signings, it was first reported that the Tigers had been in contract negotiations with SS Javier Báez, and talks continued to progress into the late hours of Monday night and early hours on Tuesday. By the time Tuesday morning rolled around, there was confirmation that the Tigers and Báez agreed on a six-year, $140 million contract that features a partial no-trade clause and an opt-out after two years.
What Báez Brings
The shortstop position was the Tigers’ biggest need heading into the off-season, and while many predicted that Detroit would be in on Carlos Correa, they decided to go with the cheaper option in Báez. Tigers fans were none too happy to receive the news on Báez Tuesday morning, as the hope was that Chris Illitch and Al Avila would open the checkbook and make a statement this offseason. However, there is no denying that Javier Báez is a significant upgrade for this team at the shortstop position. When you compare him to Correa, it is easy to become blinded to what he can bring to the team. Báez is one of the truly elite defenders in the game at the shortstop position, which is something Detroit desperately needed in their future shortstop, as Willi Castro, Harold Castro, Zack Short, and Niko Goodrum combined to form one of the worst defensive shortstop teams in all of baseball, with all of them having negative DRS’s (Defensive Runs Saved) in 2021. Báez put up a +6 DRS last season.
Everybody knows that Báez’s biggest issue in his career has been his discipline at the plate. He struck out over 33% of the time last season and has a career walk rate under 5%. When he’s on, Báez can be a dynamic player at the plate. In 2021, he slashed .265/.319/.813 with 31 home runs and 87 RBIs. He has the power to hit 25+ home runs consistently, even playing at Comerica Park. If AJ Hinch can get Báez to reign in his approach, similar to how he did in the second half of last season, he has the ability to drastically improve his OPS, which is what it will take if he wants to have these Tigers competing for a playoff spot.
The Overall Grade
When grading this trade, it is tough to determine whether or not to grade it in a vacuum or concerning Detroit’s entire offseason plan. Given Detroit’s financial flexibility, their competitiveness last season, and what is currently taking place in the market, this move doesn’t look quite as solid as it does in a vacuum. However, given that the deal is already done, and we are analyzing Javier Báez’s specific fit with this team, it is best to grade this move out for what it is. The Tigers went out and got a solid, exciting shortstop, even if there were better, more expensive options on the market. Báez has the chance to prove that he is still an MVP-caliber player in Detroit and can help lead a young core towards playoff contention. All of Detroit is rooting for him to do just that.
The Grade: B+
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