Chicago Cubs star shortstop Javier Báez believes the skills that make him look like a 'magician' in the field will keep him in the #9 in the long term.
The 26-year-old Puerto Rican Chicago baseball star from Bayamón spoke to El Nuevo Día about recent statements by Cubs President Theo Epstein, who didn't rule out trading Báez and star third baseman Kris Bryant, once the two become free agents at the end of the 2021 season.
The Cubs would have to invest a lot of money to retain both players. Báez and Bryant could aspire to a contract similar to Nolan Arenado $260 million-contract for eight years with Colorado. Epstein seems to clearly believe he will probably not retain both players, so he would already be open to the possibility of trading one of these iconic players before losing him in the free agency.
Báez knows the business but expressed his desire to continue in the team.
"I know what I can give to the team. Also, you have to see that part of the business. They also know what I give," Báez said yesterday during a visit to the Pediatric Hospital at the Medical Center with his colleague Minnesota Twins pitcher José Berríos.
Ever since his debut in the Majors in 2014, "El Mago" (The Magician) has become one of the stars of the team and one of the fans' favorites. In 2016, he helped the Cubs win the World Series for the first time in 108 years. In that year's playoffs, he was named National League Championship Series Most Valuable Player, a prize he shared with opening pitcher Jon Lester.
In 2018, Báez won second place in the National League MVP award, a trophy that ended in the hands of outfielder Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Epstein told Forbes magazine that it would be difficult to see Báez in another uniform, but he has to make the best decisions for a team that is at a "transition point."
Faced with uncertainty, Báez insisted on his love for the Windy City, where he would like to play his entire career in the world's best baseball. "I love Chicago. They love me a lot in Chicago. I'd like to spend all my career in Chicago. We'll see what happens in the offseason and next year," he said.
Baez, 26, will go through another arbitration process in this offseason and is expected to receive a salary increase. Last year he agreed to a $5.2 million contract to avoid arbitration.
In his first year of arbitration in 2018, Bryant won $10.8 million and he reportedly has a case on the table to advance his free agency to 2020.
Baez finished the season in the list of injured players after a hairline fracture to his left thumb which happened in September amid the critical fight for the playoffs. Without Báez, the Cubs failed to make it into the postseason, losing nine games between Sept. 17 and Sept. 26 and then lost the Central Division Championship to the San Luis Cardinals and the two wild-card teams that went to the Washington Brewers and Nationals.
"I was frustrated because they were silly injuries, but they kept me off the field for a month and a half. We didn't have the whole month. We could win five in a row only one week, which was the only week we warmed up. We didn't lose five straight games all season and then lost nine at the end and didn´t reach the postseason. It was really frustrating, but I had no choice. I had to deal with the problem," said the Puerto Rican native.
Báez finished the season with an average of .281 with 29 home runs and 85 runs batted in 138 games.
He said he will be ready once he starts training hard for the 2020 campaign. "I´m supposed to be 100 percent already by then. We haven't tried any ball activity so far. I'm going to start training in my regular offseason time and, depending on how I feel, we'll extend the practices and training. I have until February to be ready and I think that's enough time," Báez said.
He trusts the new manager
Once out of the playoffs, the Cubs reached a mutual agreement with Joe Maddon for him to leave the team. This week, Chicago announced the hiring of former catcher David Ross as the new Cubs manager. Puerto Rican coach Josué Espada, of the Houston Astros, was also in the race.
Báez, who won the World Series along with Ross in his last season, understands that people have confidence about what the new manager can bring to the team. "He was my teammate and we won the championship together. I think the chemistry is going to be good. He is well-respected in the team and we´ll see how he is doing in his first year in this position," he said.
Happy with his cover
On the other hand, Báez had a week to celebrate the announcement as the cover of the Sony MLB video game: The Show 20, which will be available next March exclusively for PS4. "There was a vote and I was nominated. I liked the plan and how they did it. That was (the decision) in June when I showed up in a Starbucks in uniform. I had a lot of fun with the people who did it. It's a blessing to me," he concluded.