After World Series tribute, will Cubs turn Javier Baez into Jon Lester’s personal second baseman?

After World Series tribute, will Cubs turn Javier Baez into Jon Lester’s personal second baseman?

ST. LOUIS – Calling it “a tribute to the World Series,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon made Javier Baez the Opening Night second baseman and aligned the outfield like this from left to right at Busch Stadium: Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist.

Sitting Baez against the St. Louis Cardinals on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” didn’t feel right to Maddon. Not after Baez started all 17 playoff games at second base and became a breakout star with his highlight-reel defense last October. 

Maddon has repeatedly identified Zobrist as his primary second baseman this season, with Baez blocked by a World Series MVP and ticketed for a super-utility role, particular matchups and late-game defensive situations.  

But with his sixth sense for tags, the range to make acrobatic plays and a rocket arm, Baez could help Opening Night starter Jon Lester control the running game and manage a throwing issue now magnified with former catcher David Ross on “Dancing with the Stars.” 

Will the Cubs pair up last year’s National League Championship Series co-MVPs again? Could Baez become a personal second baseman for Lester? 

“It depends,” Maddon said. “You’d like to have Javy playing second base with anybody pitching. He’s one of the top maybe two or three second basemen in all of baseball. But we’re just going to, again, try to fit everything in as well as we possibly can.

“I always try to set Javy up based on the pitcher and where I thought the ball was going to be hit. A lot of that had to do with Schwarber being hurt last year, Dexter (Fowler) got hurt, ‘KB’ (Kris Bryant) having to go in the outfield more often, and then it was more open.

“I don’t want it to happen again that way. I don’t want anybody to get hurt. I want to have to make these decisions daily just based on keeping guys rested, giving guys opportunity. But you can make the argument to play Javy at second base every day of the year.”

Baez won’t, because Theo Epstein’s front office constructed another deep, versatile roster and Maddon’s coaching staff will be focused on the idea of rest and peaking at the right time again after playing into early November.     

“It made a lot of sense to have Javy in the lineup,” Epstein said. “He was on the field for just about every inning in the postseason. It would be odd not to have him out there for Opening Day.

“Everyone was in agreement that this is a nice nod (for Javy). Going from here, (Joe’s) going to have a lot of good choices day-to-day. And we know he’ll make it work.”  

Cubs Talk Podcast: Not enough coronavirus testing for the Cubs


Cubs Talk Podcast: Not enough coronavirus testing for the Cubs

David Kaplan, Gordon Wittenmyer and Maddie Lee discuss MLB's testing issue and what could it mean for the season. They also dive into the Cubs starting pitching with Jose Quintana being sidelined, and they make predictions on how many games the Cubs will win in the shortened season.

1:26) - How is baseball going to happen if there aren't enough tests for the players

(6:40) - Do the Cubs have enough on the roster to win this year

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Cubs news and analysis.

(12:45) - The pitching staff for the Cubs is light if Quintana can't play

(17:46) - How many games will the Cubs win this year?

(23:42) - Will Kris Bryant sign an extension with the Cubs?

Listen here or below.



Why Cubs core's desire to sign extensions might not matter anymore

Why Cubs core's desire to sign extensions might not matter anymore

The day after Kris Bryant suggested that first-time fatherhood and the dramatic reality of world events have changed how he looks at his future with the Cubs, general manager Jed Hoyer outlined why it might be all but moot.

Setting aside the fact that the Cubs aren’t focusing on contract extensions with anyone at this time of health and economic turmoil, the volatility and unpredictability of a raging COVID-19 pandemic in this country and its economic fallout have thrown even mid-range and long-term roster plans into chaos.

“This is without question the most difficult time we’ve ever had as far as projecting those things,” Hoyer said. “All season in projecting this year, you weren’t sure how many games we were going to get in. Projecting next season obviously has challenges, and who knows where the country’s going to be and the economy’s going to be.”

Bryant, a three-time All-Star and former MVP, is eligible for free agency after next season. He and the club have not engaged in extension talks for three years. And those gained little traction while it has looked increasingly likely since then that Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, would eventually take his star client to market — making Bryant a widely circulated name in trade talks all winter.

MORE: Scott Boras: Why Kris Bryant's free agency won't be impacted by economic crisis

The Cubs instead focused last winter on talks with All-Star shortstop Javy Báez, making “good” or little progress depending on which side you talked to on a given day — until the pandemic shut down everything in March.

Báez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are both also eligible for free agency after next season, with All-Star catcher Willson Contreras right behind them a year later.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Cubs news and analysis.

None has a multiyear contract, and exactly what the Cubs are willing to do about that even if MLB pulls off its 60-game plan this year is hard for even the team’s front office executives to know without knowing how hard the pandemic will continue to hammer America’s health and financial well-being into the winter and next year.

Even with a vaccine and treatments by then, what will job markets look like? The economy at large? The economy of sports? Will anyone want to gather with 40,000 others in a stadium to watch a game anytime soon?

And even if anyone could answer all those questions, who can be sure how the domino effect will impact salary markets for athletes?

“There’s no doubt that forecasting going forward is now much more challenging from a financial standpoint,” Hoyer said. “But that’s league-wide. Anyone that says they have a feel for where the nation’s economy and where the pandemic is come next April is lying.”

The Cubs front office already was in a tenuous place financially, its payroll budget stretched past its limit and a threat to exceed MLB’s luxury tax threshold for a second consecutive season.

And after a quick playoff exit in 2018 followed by the disappointment of missing the playoffs in 2019, every player on the roster was in play for a possible trade over the winter — and even more so at this season’s trade deadline without a strong start to the season.

Now what?

For starters, forget about dumping short-term assets or big contracts for anything of value from somebody’s farm system. Even if baseball can get to this year’s Aug. 31 trade deadline with a league intact and playing, nobody is predicting more than small level trades at that point — certainly not anything close to a blockbuster.

After that, it may not get any clearer for the sport in general, much less the Cubs with their roster and contract dilemmas.

“We have a lot of conversations about it internally, both within the baseball side and then with the business side as well,” Hoyer said. “But it’s going to take a long time and probably some sort of macro things happening for us to really have a good feel for where we’re going to be in ’21 and beyond.”