2B or not 2B? Baez fine with continued job share in Cubs’ infield
MESA, Ariz. — Javy Baez was so valuable at second base that he owned the starting job for the Cubs all 17 postseason games last fall.
His tags at second were so uniquely athletic and seamless that the World Series TV crew put together a feature montage for its broadcast. He shared the official National League Championship Series MVP award and was considered the unofficial MVP of the NL Division Series (which has no official award).
But Baez is a man without a position again as he opens his first spring training as an established player and known big-league quantity, never mind championship player.
“Obviously, when I get my years in the big leagues, I want to have my own spot,” said Baez, who brings to camp a shock of newly dyed yellow hair and an air of been-there confidence that seems to add muscle to a swagger that has been there since he was drafted ninth overall in 2011.
“But right now, it’s just about getting better and helping the team. Last year, I came in with the mindset to play every day, and I played a lot of games. I’m pretty sure we’re going to rotate a lot, with [third baseman Kris Bryant], me and [second baseman Ben Zobrist]. Whatever we’ve got to do, we’ll do it.”
Baez played all four infield positions last year and made some of the league’s top fielding plays at each one.
By the end of the season, he was the most versatile — maybe the most valuable — defensive player on the 103-win club.
But manager Joe Maddon opens camp with a position-player roster bulging with returning talent, including Zobrist at second base in an infield that put all four starters in the NL starting lineup for the All-Star Game — the first team to accomplish that since the 1963 Cardinals.
“We have to balance a lot of different things out,” Maddon said this week. “Zo is going to be out there primarily, and then we’ll work Javy in there. But Zo could also do what he’s done in the past, play some outfield.”
Baez might yet have a chance to earn the starting job at second — his best position — if not to open the season, then possibly during the season.
“It’s all theory right now,” Maddon said. “Of course, he’s going to play a lot. How it’s going to balance out, we’re not 100 percent sure yet.”
Baez, 24, could make the case that he showed he deserves a bona fide starting position with a postseason that began with a home run in the Cubs’ 1-0 playoff opener and included the go-ahead hit in the NLDS-clinching comeback in the ninth inning in San Francisco.
He went on to hit .318 in the NLCS against the Dodgers. And he homered in the Cubs’ one-run victory over the Indians in Game 7 of the World Series.
But he shrugs off the idea that he proved anything to anybody last fall, much less that he might have earned anything heading into this year.
“I just tried to play the game hard,” he said. “I’m sure I will do my best when I play second base or whenever they decide they need me there. I’m pretty sure they’re going to put me there.”
Whether that’s once or twice a week at second, once or twice at third — or wherever he might roam — he’s counting only on a chance to play.
“I didn’t know how much time I was going to have to play [last year], and I played a lot,” he said. “I did great last year, so hopefully this year I play more and stay healthy.”
Said Maddon: “Javy was so significant to the conclusion of last season. He’s going to be very significant again this year and years to come.”
NOTE: Javy Baez (Puerto Rico) is one of three Cubs on early rosters for this spring’s World Baseball Classic, starting next month. The others: pitchers Hector Rondon (Venezuela) and Jim Henderson (Canada). That doesn’t count front-office assistant Ryan Dempster (Canada), 39, the Cubs’ former Opening Day starter.