Why Javier Baez Should Start in AAA
Before I get into my thesis, check out this photo (props to Brett at BleacherNation.com for turning me on to this):
Take a look at where that pitch is – just a few feet from home plate. Take a look where Baez’s bat is: pointed almost straight at the pitcher. No way he gets that around and makes contact, right? WRONG! How does he do it. BAT SPEED OF THE GODS. Right after this moment, he hit a 450+ ft. homerun to center field.
So, Baez has proven he is ready for the big leagues (with a league-leading 5 homeruns this spring) and should break camp with the team, right? I mean, it’s not like the Cubs have tons of great players, so we should just go ahead and see what we have with this kid, right? WRONG! Here’s why:
1) Baez could still use development. Remember, he’s never seen an at-bat in AAA. You might be saying, “…but, he’s killing MLB pitching, who needs AAA?” Well, keep in mind that 1) he’s not hitting these homeruns off of Clayton Kershaw (many of these pitchers will be in MiLB as well, 2) pitchers in spring training are often working on spotting the fastball, so they aren’t always using their repertoire in the same way they would during the season, and 3) Baez has looked really bad at times striking out on breaking balls way outside the zone. Baez is always going to kill mistakes – there’s no doubt about it, but his pitch recognition skills leave much to be desired. He pretty much swings at everything – if a pitcher makes a mistake, it goes 500 ft., but if a pitcher spots a breaking ball, Baez is going to swing and miss more often than not. The comparisons of Baez to Gary Sheffield in terms of bat speed are apt – the difference is that Sheffield had great pitch recognition skills, even as a teenager. There are some that believe that pitch recognition cannot be developed past a certain age. That might be true, but it’s worth giving Baez a little more time in the minors to work specifically on that skill.
2) All that said, Baez might break camp with the MLB club this spring if it weren’t for long-term financial concerns (HUGE props to Justin Jabs at baseblog94.com for a great rundown of this issue). Here’s the short version: players make the league minimum for the first three years of their careers; in years 4, 5, and 6, they are eligible for arbitration (and thus more money); after 6 years, they are eligible for free agency. To clock a year of service time, a player has to log 172 days in the majors. So, if the Cubs wait until late April, they avoid losing an entire year of pre-free agent years. If the Cubs were a team on the cusp of a playoff berth, OK – maybe you don’t care about the long-term consequences and keep him on the roster now to go for it this season. Obviously, the Cubs aren’t in that position, so there’s absolutely no reason to lose that year.
3) There’s also a reason he might not be called up until July: the Super 2 rule. The top 22% of players (in terms of service time) that have less than three years of service time but more than two are eligible for arbitration a year early (after 2 years instead of 3). The cutoff for Super 2 is July. So, there is another reason that we might have to wait awhile to see Baez at Wrigley.
As Joe pointed out on the podcast (which, btw, you should go to iTunes and check out), many young players are being signed to long-term deals before they reach free agency, so this shouldn’t be a factor, right? The Cubs will just sign him to a long-term deal long before he reaches free agency. This is probably true, but Theo has stated that the team policy is to buy one of the free agent years and to include a second in a team option. So, the team will have more equity in a player if they have more years of pre-arbitration or pre-free agency left when the contract is negotiated. The team is giving a player a contract sooner than they “have” to, so they have more leverage. These service-time issues are still factors in this scenario.
So, even though I’ve stated that Baez is already my favorite player, I’m more than happy to wait to see him at Clark and Addison for all the reasons I’ve discussed above. I think it will be worth the wait.
Until next Friday…