Detroit Tigers’ Javier Báez, Twins’ Carlos Correa building a friendly rivalry? ‘We’ll see’

Detroit Free Press

MINNEAPOLIS — Javier Báez ripped a double in the sixth inning Tuesday in the opener of the three-game series between the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins, the first of 19 matchups this season.

Carlos Correa greeted him at second base, and the shortstops exchanged words.

“We were just talking, baseball and family,” Correa said. “He was talking to me about his kids. I was talking to him about my kid and all that, and how we want them to play baseball. Small talk.”

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Earlier in Tuesday’s game, Báez drew his second walk of the year but the Tigers stranded him at first base. When the first inning concluded, Correa embraced Báez while jogging to his team’s dugout.

The Twins swept the Tigers, outscoring them 17-5, from Tuesday-Thursday at Target Field in the first-ever Báez-Correa showdown within the American League Central.

Both players were born in Puerto Rico.

“I’m very proud of what he’s accomplished,” Correa said of Báez. “He’s inspired a lot of kids back home, and he’s helped a lot of people. I like that he has every tool. He can change the game with his bat, with his glove, stealing bags. That’s what makes him really special.”

“There’s a lot of good shortstops in the American League, and he’s obviously one of them,” Báez said of Correa. “It’ll be hard to compete against him and the other ones, but at the same time, we’re going to make it fun and see how it goes for both of us. I always say that this is a game before the business and job. I think we’re going to have fun.”

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The Chicago Cubs selected Báez with the No. 9 overall pick in 2011. He came from Arlington Country Day High School in Jacksonville, Florida. In the 2012 draft, the Houston Astros took Correa with the No. 1 overall pick out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy in Gurabo, Puerto Rico.

Before Báez — who moved to Florida in 2005 — hit the professional ranks, Arlington Country Day would make trips to Puerto Rico for games. Prior to the Cubs drafting him, Báez matched up against Correa’s team.

“He was a great prospect,” Correa said.

They knew of each other but didn’t share a conversation.

That changed once they reached the big leagues. Báez made his MLB debut in August 2014; Correa made his MLB debut in June 2015. The Cubs and Astros played three times each in 2016 and 2019.

“And then in the Baseball Classic we played together,” Báez said.

“That’s where I got to spend the most time with him,” Correa added.

The 2017 World Baseball Classic situated Báez and Correa on the same team, representing Puerto Rico. (The roster also included Yadier Molina, Carlos Beltrán, Francisco Lindor, José Berríos and Joe Jiménez.)

The United States beat Puerto Rico, 8-0, in the WBC championship at Dodger Stadium. For that game, Báez started at second base, Lindor at shortstop and Correa at third base.

“The communication was pretty good as a team,” Báez said. “We had fun with all the veterans that we had there, with Beltrán and Yadi. It was really fun, and the communication was really great.”

Báez and Correa — a pair of two-time All-Stars — signed contracts as first-time free agents this past offseason: Báez, 29, went to the Tigers in December on a six-year, $140 million contract while Correa, 27, went to the Twins in March on a three-year, $105.3 million contract.

“Javy is a complete baseball player,” said Tigers manager A.J. Hinch, who managed Correa for five years with the Astros. “I’m glad he’s ours. He’s going to really help us win.”

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The Tigers had interest in both World Series winners, along with three more All-Star shortstops from last offseason’s free-agent class: Corey Seager (Texas Rangers), Marcus Semien (Texas Rangers) and Trevor Story (Boston Red Sox).

Two of those names, Báez and Correa, were linked to the Tigers more than the other three players.

They didn’t talk much during the free-agent process, primarily because Báez lives in Puerto Rico during the offseason and Correa had his offseason home in Houston. But Hinch talked about Correa when the Tigers’ brass met with Báez on Nov. 19 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Bal Harbour, at the northern tip of Miami Beach, Florida.

“It’s a little different with our age and the time that we got,” Báez said. “But the talent is what we get paid for. He obviously is a great shortstop and a great player. But what can I do? I got to compete against him now.”

“I get to see him up close,” Correa said. “I haven’t gotten to see him play much because he was in the National League, but now we’re in the same division, so I get to see him more.”

Báez has an opt-out clause in his contract after the 2023 season, meaning he could return to free agency before his six-year pact with the Tigers expires. Correa, meanwhile, can opt-out after 2022 or 2023.

Correa, represented by agent Scott Boras, has already expressed interest in a long-term commitment with the Twins.

“He’s obviously got a plan,” Báez said, “and hopefully it works for him.”

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For now, Báez and Correa are together in the AL Central.

In this week’s series, Báez finished 3-for-12 (.250) with one double, one home run, four RBIs, one walk and four strikeouts. Correa went 3-for-13 (.231) with one double, three RBIs, zero walks and four strikeouts.

They’re slated to meet 16 more times.

So, the big question: Will this evolve into a friendly rivalry?

“We’ll see what happens in the future,” Báez said. “We’re just going to compete and play hard.”

“I don’t know,” Correa said. “We’ll see how it plays out.”

Jeimer Candelario and the Tigers

Swept by the Twins, the Tigers have lost five games in a row to drop to 6-12.

The offense hasn’t clicked, the defense is sloppy, and the success of the pitching staff has been wasted. Instead of hitting the panic button, Hinch chose to focus on the remaining 144 games.

“We’re going to play the 140-plus games we have left, so I don’t want to rush to too many judgements,” Hinch said after Thursday’s 7-1 loss. “It is what it is. We’ve earned the situation that we’re in, the hole that we’re in. We’ve got to play better.”

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Along with losing 7-1 in the finale, the Tigers dropped Tuesday’s opener, 5-4, on catcher Eric Haase’s throwing error in the ninth inning and Wednesday’s game, 5-0, with two hits and one walk as a team.

“We always got to pick it up every single day,” Tigers third baseman Jeimer Candelario said. “We don’t want to get too comfortable. We want to be able to win ballgames. We had a goal, and the goal is to clinch.

“We need to play really good ballgames. We need to produce. I got to put the team in a good position, too. Everybody in this clubhouse is working really hard to be the best in their area.”

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The season is young, but the Tigers are in last place in the Central. The Twins lead the way at 11-8, followed by the Kansas City Royals at 7-10, Chicago White Sox at 7-11 and Cleveland Guardians at 7-12.

The Tigers sit 4½ games back of first place.

“We got to keep working hard,” Candelario said. “When you play ball the right way, good things are going to happen. We’re going to be good. We’re going to be all right.”

The only problem is the Tigers, as a team, aren’t playing winning baseball, and neither is Candelario. He is hitting .143 (9-for-63) with three doubles, four RBIs, six walks and 17 strikeouts in 17 games.

Hinch benched him Thursday.

“This is a game where you got some ups and downs, but you got to continue working hard,” said Candelario, the Tigers’ most consistent hitter over the past two seasons. “One day, it could click. That click could change the whole mindset and the whole season.”

Something extra

• Pitching prospect Alex Faedo dominated Wednesday over five innings in his Triple-A Toledo debut. The 26-year-old right-hander kept the Omaha Storm Chasers — the Royals’ affiliate — from scoring while he stood on the mound. He gave up four hits and struck out eight batters without allowing a walk. He threw 49 of 69 pitches for strikes. His fastball sat around 93 mph and reached 95 mph.

Faedo, the No. 18 overall pick in 2017, is already on the Tigers’ 40-man roster and could make his MLB debut starting the May 10 doubleheader against the Oakland Athletics at Comerica Park. (The Tigers are considering right-hander Elvin Rodriguez, too.) Faedo ranks as the organization’s No. 16 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. He underwent Tommy John surgery in January 2021.

• Through 12 games, outfielder Akil Baddoo is hitting .111 (4-for-36) with one double, one home run, two RBIs, three walks and 11 strikeouts. “He hasn’t really looked himself for most of the year,” Hinch said. “The at-bat quality has wavered, and the more it’s piled up on him, the more he’s tried to make up for it. It’s chasing your own tail a little bit at that point.”

Baddoo burst onto the scene last season, boasting a .256 batting average, 20 doubles, seven triples and 13 homers in 124 games. This year, though, Baddoo is scuffling — both offensively and defensively — out of the gate. He has made 10 starts in center and is worth minus-2 defensive runs saved. “I just go back to my abilities,” Baddoo said, “knowing how good I am, sticking with that and knowing the results will come.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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