Chicago Cubs shortstop Javy Baez and left fielder Joc Pederson have one thing in common besides being 28 years old and free agents after this season: Both have something to prove in 2021.
The lefty-hitting Pederson wants to show he can be an everyday player instead of just a platoon guy against righties, while Baez wants to erase last season and get back to improving his game.
“I felt in a rush,” Baez said about 2020. “I didn’t have time to make adjustments. I’m not the guy that shows you everything I have in the first half. I can have a bad half or a decent first half and my second half. I can make my first half disappear. I was not mentally ready for what happened last year.”
Baez cites the lack of fans in the stands and his inability to watch his at-bats with in-game video as contributing factors to a down season. His .599 OPS was the lowest since he broke into the big leagues. The high-energy player didn’t want to make excuses, but plenty around him say he missed the fans in the stands more than most. He concurred.
“It was the worst,” Baez said. “It was worse than facing a pitcher in spring training in the back fields.”
Baez went deeper with his concerns about his own game, claiming he lost focus soon after the Cubs won the World Series in 2016. Players were treated as rock stars, and Baez was pulled in many directions.
“I got away from baseball because all this other stuff that we did. People saw me in different ways,” he said. “I wanted to play baseball and people didn’t see me as a baseball player. I wasn’t trying to get better every day. Now that I’m into it again, I have more confidence. I’m letting the game teach me what I can do.”
Baez was down the road on signing a long-term deal with the Cubs before the pandemic hit last spring, so those negotiations will pick up again soon, according to sources familiar with the situation. He could be in line for a deal that pays him around $200 million.
“We had a good conversation [last year],” Baez said. “I want to stay here. I don’t want to play for another team.”
Pederson is in a similar rebound situation after hitting just .190 in 43 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers last year. But his postseason opened some eyes after he hit .400 in 34 at-bats last October. He said he turned down multiyear offers this winter because he wasn’t guaranteed playing every day, choosing the Cubs for one year at $7 million.
“I don’t feel like I’m respected as an everyday player,” Pederson bluntly stated in his Zoom call with reporters on Friday.
After going through team rosters in the offseason, Pederson landed on the Cubs, who had an opening in left field. He had his agent called Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer, who subsequently talked with manager David Ross, assuring Pederson he would play against righties and lefties.
“Obviously, the Dodgers have a ton of depth which allows them to do certain things, which allows them to be successful,” Pederson said. “You do what you have to do to win, and you play your role, and it was awesome. But I’m excited for a new opportunity.”
Pederson has a career .191 batting average against left-handers and expects some leash to start the season. But that playing time will only last so long if he’s not producing. Cubs’ manager David Ross told him as much.
“He said ‘Hey, if we come to July and you’re not cutting it and you’re hitting .150 against lefties, we’re still here to win ball games,'” Pederson recalled. “I understood. I just want a real opportunity.”