Detroit — Here’s the first thing shortstop Javier Baez brings to the table — stability at what has been for years a fatally unstable defensive position in Detroit.
The Tigers, according to Sports Info Solutions, have had the fewest defensive runs saved in Major League Baseball since 2016. Their combined minus-352 is by far the worst over that span.
At the shortstop position last season, with a rotating cast that included Niko Goodrum, Zack Short, Willi Castro and Harold Castro, they posted a third-worst minus-16 defensive runs saved.
In 100 games at shortstop last season, Baez saved 16 runs. He is, in fact, baseball’s defensive runs leader over the last three seasons.
And, unlike the Tigers’ shortstops the last few years, he’s been a consistent run-producer, bashing 31 home runs and knocking in 87 last year splitting the season between the Cubs and Mets.
The Tigers early Tuesday morning scored a massive upgrade at the shortstop position when they reached an agreement with Baez on a six-year, $140 million deal, pending medicals. The deal also gives Baez, entering his age-29 season, an opt-out after the first two years and limited no-trade protection.
General manager Al Avila identified shortstop as a top priority heading into the offseason and he’d been in contact with all five of the top shortstops on the market. Two of them — Marcus Semien and Corey Seager — were signed by the Texas Rangers on Sunday and Monday for a combined 17 years and $500 million.
Carlos Correa, expected to be seeking a 10-year deal in the $350 million range, and Trevor Story are still on the market. Avila seemed to indicate a week ago that he wasn’t inclined to pursue a deal in excess of $300 million.
Getting a player the caliber of Baez, then, for an average annual salary of $23 million — and half of what Correa would’ve cost overall — was significant. Even with the signing of lefty starter Eduardo Rodriguez ($15 million average per year), picking up the option on catcher Tucker Barnhart ($7.5 million) and the extension of infielder Jonathan Schoop last season ($7.5 million), the Tigers are still under $100 million in committed salary for 2022.
Even if they tender and sign all eight of their arbitration-eligible players, they should still have the flexibility to add another starting pitcher (mid-level) and-or position player this offseason.
Báez, a two-time All-Star and one of the key players on the Cubs’ 2016 World Series championship team, is a dynamic talent. He won a Gold Glove in 2020 and was runner up in the National League MVP balloting in 2018.
He is a human highlight reel in the field, possessing great range and one of the best throwing arms in the game. He also plays with high passion and enthusiasm, which for him has been a double-edged sword throughout his career.
At the plate, he hits the ball hard and far. He had an average exit velocity on the balls he put in play last season of 90.1 mph with a 13.4% barrel rate (balls hit 95 mph or harder). Despite a slow start last season, he finished with a 116 weighted runs created and a 3.6 WAR (Fangraphs).
The swing-and-miss is also a part of his profile. He had a career-worst 33.6% strikeout rate last year, with a 46.6% chase rate.
He will excite and exasperate often in the same game. But, on a team that is building its foundation on a group of young starting pitchers, he will dramatically improve the Tigers’ defense and solidify a vital position that has floundered since Jhonny Peralta left after the 2013 season.