TEMPE, Ariz. — Time is running out for Javier Baez to show the Cubs he belongs on the Opening Day roster.
Baez hasn’t played in a Cactus League game since March 20, getting treatment on the left thumb he jammed while diving headfirst into first base. That leaves the Cubs looking at how to replace a versatile player they believe could be a Ben Zobrist 2.0.
“We’re attempting to create an 11th hour to get this whole thing done,” Joe Maddon said before Monday’s 8-8 tie against the Los Angeles Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium. “But getting more definition about Javy is really important right now.”
Maddon, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer watched Baez play catch that morning at the team’s Mesa complex. The Cubs have only two games left on their Cactus League schedule before heading to Las Vegas for two exhibitions against the New York Mets on Thursday and Friday, meaning the window for Baez is about to close.
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“Yes, absolutely, we are (concerned),” Maddon said. “That’s why we got to make up our mind relatively soon, so we can go to Plan B.
“The concern is that he has not had enough at-bats, that he’s not played enough in the outfield. Those are the kind of concerns that we have. So, yes, we need to try to figure out how we want to process all that right now.”
With Spencer Patton optioned to Triple-A Iowa, the Cubs still appear to be leaning toward carrying Neil Ramirez as an eighth reliever. For that final bench job, the Cubs could add Munenori Kawasaki as a backup middle infielder or hold onto outfielder Matt Szczur, who’s out of minor-league options.
The Cubs do have some flexibility with Zobrist, who started at shortstop against the Angels, and Kris Bryant, who can move from third base to the outfield. But Maddon loves the dimensions Baez could bring to this team.
“If you don’t have him,” Maddon said, “you have to be more creative regarding how you’re going to shuffle maybe a late-inning defensive replacement, how you’re going to shuffle the pinch-running, who’s going to be available and who do you want for those roles. That’s why he is so important being all of those things.”
In Maddon’s mind, the overall body of work has shown that Baez belongs in the big leagues as soon as he’s healthy.
“Yes,” Maddon said. “The concern is purely health right now.”