The Tigers have and free-agent shortstop Javier Baez have discussed a contract within the past few days, MLB.com’s Jon Morosi reports (via Twitter). ESPN’s Buster Olney adds that the Tigers are currently “focused” on Baez after previously talking to both Carlos Correa and Marcus Semien. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic also tweets the Tigers and Baez are having discussions, though he also emphasizes that there’s no deal in place.
It’s not the first time the two sides have been connected, but recent talks between the two parties are nevertheless notable — particularly given various reports and industry speculation that Baez could push to sign somewhere prior to the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement next week.
Detroit has been repeatedly linked to Correa for months now, though at least some of that stems from the fact that Tigers manager AJ Hinch knows Correa well from their time together in Houston. General manager Al Avila began the offseason by stating that his team needed both a starting pitcher and a shortstop while simultaneously emphasizing that the club would not “spend like drunken sailors.” This week, speaking at Eduardo Rodriguez’s introductory press conference, Avila struck a similar tone (links via Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press and Evan Woodberry of MLive.com).
“One big splash does not win you the offseason,” Avila said, adding that there was never going to be a free agent who could singlehandedly make the Tigers into a contender.
“Obviously, we want to get into the playoffs,” Avila said Tuesday, “but we have to be careful as we move forward. … We have to make sure we can field a good 26-man roster. It’s going to be a measured process. We’re going to be very careful in how we do it.”
It’s important to note that said quotes certainly don’t eliminate the possibility of Detroit beating the market to sign Correa or fellow top free agent Corey Seager. Even with Rodriguez aboard, the Tigers have minimal long-term commitments on the books. Tucker Barnhart and Robbie Grossman are signed through 2022. Miguel Cabrera and Jonathan Schoop are signed through 2023. Rodriguez is the only Tiger signed beyond that 2023 season.
That said, if Detroit truly is focused on employing a more “measured” approach, a shorter-term deal for Baez, Semien or Trevor Story would fit the bill. The combination of Rodriguez and any one of that trio would very likely cost less than signing either Correa or Seager on his own, while still providing considerable upgrades over the 2021 roster.
It was an up-and-down season in 2021 for Baez, who’ll turn 29 the day the CBA expires. After a solid first month at the plate, he alternated between brilliant numbers (May, July, September) and awful numbers (June, August) on a month-by-month basis. Notably, he finished out the year with his hottest streak of the season: .347/.426/.554 with five homers and six doubles in 115 September/October plate appearances. Perhaps more encouraging was the fact that following his trade to the Mets, Baez walked at a 7.0% clip that would represent a career-best, while his strikeout rate dropped from 36.3% with the Cubs to a somewhat more manageable 28.5%.
The ups and downs come with the territory for Baez, who’s known as a streaky hitter, but the end result this season was a .265/.319/.494 batting line and 31 homers. That would be an overwhelming upgrade for a Tigers team that saw its shortstops combine to post an awful .201/.275/.321 batting line — and that’s before considering Baez’s status as plus defensive shortstop and plus baserunner.