The coronavirus pandemic has put on hold not only the 2020 major league season but also contract-extension talks between All-Star shortstop Javier Baez and the Chicago Cubs.
Baez, under team control through 2021, told ESPN that the Cubs and his representatives had what he characterized as multiple “really good” conversations about a long-term contract extension during the spring. Nonetheless, he and his representatives felt there was no pressure to get anything done by a particular date.
“Obviously, we want to reach an agreement, but right now everything is on hiatus. Just like it happened with baseball, we decided to leave it there. We haven’t talked about it anymore,” Baez said on a call with ESPN.
Baez spoke from the town of Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, where he was part of a fundraising effort alongside Twins pitcher Jose Berrios — who is also his brother-in-law — offering hot food to 500 needy families.
“I’m very happy in Chicago. I believe it’s one of the best organizations in the major leagues,” Baez added. “We had several conversations but never focused on a deadline. They were very amicable conversations where we communicated well with each other.”
Baez, the ninth overall selection for the Cubs in the 2011 MLB draft, spoke of wanting to remain with the same franchise his entire career, but understands how increasingly rare that is.
“It’s a blessing when a player can wear the same uniform their whole life — but it’s a business. For me, it’s about loyalty. This is the team that has seen me grow up,” Baez said. “Of course, many great players have played for many different teams in their careers. My favorite player, Manny Ramirez, has been on a lot of teams. Even though everyone identifies him with Boston, when he left, Manny was always Manny. That’s how it’ll be for me. I’ll always be myself.”
The Cubs and Baez had set a deadline of about a week before the regular season and were making progress on a deal before talks were shut down because of the pandemic, a source told ESPN.
Baez will enter his age-27 season as the centerpiece of the Cubs’ offense and infield. He has accounted for 11.8 Wins Above Replacement the past two years, fourth-most by a National League hitter in that period, and is coming off a career-best 6.0 WAR in 2019.
The Puerto Rican-born infielder played shortstop full-time for the first time in 2019, with 128 of his 131 starts at the position, the first season he started 100 or more games at a single position in his career. His 26 Defensive Runs Saved at short were tied for most in the majors.
The flashy infielder has been training at his home in Puerto Rico, which has been on full shutdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. His workouts have been limited to the outdoor farmland area at his home, and working out with Berrios at a nearby park. Baez and Berrios are close friends, attended the same high school in Puerto Rico, and are married to sisters.
Baez admitted he’s been struggling during this hiatus, especially when dealing with the unknown and the possibility of starting the season at an empty Wrigley Field. Still, spending time with his young son, born in June of last year, and training with Berrios and doing charity work in Puerto Rico have given him a sense of purpose.
“This is where I came from, and I put myself in the situation all these families (affected by the coronavirus) are in. When I was a kid, at 6, 7 years old, I would be one of those kids lining up here to get food. I see myself in these children. When they see us, they get so excited, and it makes me feel emotional,” Baez said.
“But this whole situation is making me feel a bit desperate. I’m frustrated because I don’t know what date I’m preparing for. It’s hard to stay ready that way. And I think about how it will be really strange to play without the hustle and bustle of the fans. When I’m on deck, I always take a few seconds to look at the stands. It’s a special feeling. It will be different. But if there’s no other option, we’ll play.”