Javier Báez and the Tigers are nearing a six-year deal, a source told MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi late Monday night. The club has not confirmed the report.
Báez has been earmarked by fans and front offices for several years as a marquee name in this winter’s crop of free-agent shortstops, but he enters the offseason after an up-and-down 2021 season. The Puerto Rican star was one of several cornerstones of the Cubs’ 2016 World Series championship team that Chicago dealt before the July 30 Trade Deadline, with Báez moving to the Mets to play second base alongside his friend and countryman Francisco Lindor amid a wave of optimism in Queens.
It wasn’t the smoothest transition; Lindor was sidelined with a strained right oblique for the first three weeks of Báez’s Mets tenure while New York saw its five-game lead in the National League East evaporate. Báez struggled through those opening weeks in orange and blue (.215 average, 33% strikeout rate through the end of August), and he and Lindor then became embroiled in controversy when they chose to give a “thumbs down” gesture to fans in response to booing the team received in its downward slide.
But Báez rebounded with a big final month (.347/.426/.554, five homers, 14 RBIs) to put thumb controversy behind him and enter free agency with some momentum.
In total, the 2021 season displayed what teams have come to expect from Báez: rare power for a middle infielder (31 homers, .494 slugging percentage) accompanied with a big slugger’s strikeout total (an NL-high 184). Báez routinely ranks near the top of MLB’s leaderboards in both overall swing rate (56.7% of pitches in ‘21, tied for sixth most among hitters who saw at least 1,500 deliveries) and whiff-per-swing rate (40.5%, second in MLB), leading to fluctuations throughout the season when he’s either running into pitches for big damage or missing them completely.
Power hitting is just one aspect of Báez’s game, however, as his glove is just as thrilling. He was MLB’s top overall defender by Statcast’s Outs Above Average metric in 2019 and tied for second in MLB in ‘20, and he has finished in the 80th percentile or better in OAA in every campaign since ‘17. Báez possesses huge range that easily makes him a starting shortstop for most big league clubs, along with a flair for creative tags and thrilling slides that continually boggle the mind and have earned him his “El Mago” nickname.
On his best days, Báez easily ranks among the most exciting players baseball has to offer. A runner-up in the 2018 NL MVP Award race, Báez ranks 10th among all position players in bWAR over the past four seasons (18.4).