Yes, I know.
He was the home run free agent shortstop in the eyes of many Detroit Tigers fans.
But Javier Báez is not a strikeout, even though he’ll do that plenty.
The Tigers have agreed to sign Baez to a six-year, $140-million contract, a move that makes sense on several levels and accomplishes six key things:
• 1. The Tigers filled a gaping hole in their infield and improved their defense tremendously. Baez is a gifted defender with a tremendous arm.
• 2. Added some pop to their offense. Baez hit 31 home runs last season. He has power this Tigers’ lineup needs desperately. But having said that, yes, he’ll strikeout. Which means he’ll fit right in. The Tigers ranked No.4 in MLB last year in strikeouts and that won’t be going down anytime soon.
• 3. Retained some positional flexibility considering Baez can play short, third and second base. That’s important going forward because it doesn’t lock in that position for the next decade. Tigers prospect Ryan Kriedler, who is already MLB-ready defensively, could make it to the big leagues as soon as 2023; and he’s going to stay, if he hits.
• 4. Didn’t break the bank. In the current environment, this contract is actually sensible. Throwing massive money at one position does not guarantee success. Some might consider Baez a potential problem because of his thumbs down to New York Mets fans. But Tigers manager AJ Hinch met with several free agents. And I trust Hinch has met with him and feels he knows how to handle him.
• 5. It’s only six years. That’s key. This contract will not be an albatross for the next decade when Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene should be hitting their stride and the Tigers have to pay their young pitchers. All these high draft picks are gonna get paid someday. Or the Tigers will lose them.
• 6. It completes a heck of a winter. The Tigers got their shortstop, catcher and another starting pitcher. Add it all up and this team should be in position to fight for a wildcard spot next season.
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Ilitch keeps his word
To put all of this into perspective, I take you back to last August.
Tigers owner Christopher Ilitch was at the grand opening of historic Hamtramck Stadium.
Ilitch did an impromptu news conference and I asked him a question.
“As you transition,” I began, “you’ve been through a draft and another trade deadline, when do you think it’s time to start chasing high-priced free agents?”
“We see the emergence of a young core,” Ilitch said. “And I think (Tigers general manager Al Avila) feels that we need to continue to improve our ball club in a high impact way. And I fully support that and will support that.”
He emphasized the word “fully” in a tantalizing way.
“Could that happen this winter?” I asked.
“Undoubtedly that could happen this winter,” Ilitch said. “Al has been the architect of our vision. Our fans have been incredibly patient through this process. I think Al’s vision is very much aligned with my vision and our fans’ vision, which is we want not only a highly competitive team, but we want to be a playoff contender and ultimately compete for championships.”
Many fans didn’t believe him.
And look what the Tigers have done since then.
They got their catcher when Avila traded for Tucker Barnhart, a two-time Gold Glove winner. The Tigers picked up Barnhart’s $7.5 million team option for the final year of his contract.
Granted, that’s $7.5 million they didn’t need to spend, if Jake Rogers didn’t get hurt.
But so be it, they had to get a catcher.
Then, the Tigers signed starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez for $77 million. He’ll give the Tigers a solid six or seven innings and a chance to win every five days. He’ll give the Tigers stability, at a time when their young pitchers will undoubtedly continue to have ups and downs.
So yes, they have spent money.
Just like Ilitch said.
Even though it’s not crazy money, like his dad.
Flexibility for future
Now, let’s go back to Ilitch’s comment.
“We want to compete for championships,” he said. “We want to do it on a long-term, sustainable basis.”
If this organization has a mission statement, that’s it.
And that’s what I like about Baez.
His signing gives this organization positional flexibility.
Baez can play all over the infield, which is interesting in the big picture. The Tigers believe Krielder could one day take over at shortstop.
But this move is also about financial flexibility.
The Tigers just got a top-tier free agent shortstop for far less, and signed him for shorter than what others are paying.
Texas spent $325 million for shortstop Corey Seager over 10 years and gave Marcus Semien a seven-year deal worth $175 million.
That means Correa is going to get, what? Ten years and north of $340 million?
Now consider what that means in the long term.
Teams know they will eat the final couple years of any deal.
See Miguel Cabrera’s contract. Semien will be there six years from now, Correa and Seager nine or 10 years from now.
And the Tigers are locked into Baez for just six.
Now, pull back and consider the big picture.
Cabrera’s deal comes off the books in two years, right around the time the Tigers should be legit contenders, if everything works out.
That means they could add more pieces, using the money previously marked for Cabrera. The kind of pieces that can push them over the top.
Additionally, at some point, if they don’t do early extensions, the Tigers are gonna have to pay all these young prospects.
Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Torkelson and Greene.
If they are locked into a 10-year deal, will they be able to keep them all?
That’s why I really like this Baez deal.
SEIDEL ON BARNHART: Tigers could have gone cheap on a catcher. It’s a big deal that they didn’t
Tigers management made it clear they were not gonna climb into the $300 million pool to get a shortstop.
For a second, I thought they might miss on all five premier shortstops.
But they got one, and they did it without having to pay $300 million.
Or as Avila might say: They didn’t have to spend like a drunken sailor.
This was more like getting a sensible deal on Cyber Monday.
Still expensive. Still an important piece. But not crazy money.
Contact Jeff Seidel: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.