SAN DIEGO – Javier Baez looms as an X-factor, either as a trade chip if the Cubs decide they need another frontline pitcher, or a game-changing force if it all finally clicks at Triple-A Iowa.
The Cubs made a flurry of roster moves that didn’t involve Baez before Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. But eventually the aggressiveness shown by Theo Epstein’s front office should impact Baez, a high-risk, high-reward player who’s been compared to Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield and Giancarlo Stanton (at least before striking out 95 times during last season’s 52-game audition).
Manager Joe Maddon lobbied for Baez to make the team out of spring training, believing his up-the-middle defense and power-speed combination would make a difference during those low-scoring games early in the season. Maybe seeing more big-league pitching would also be the shock to the system that forced Baez to make some adjustments.
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Baez didn’t make the team out of camp and didn’t play his first game for Iowa until April 30 after taking an extended leave of absence while dealing with the death of his younger sister and spending time with his family.
Addison Russell leapfrogged Baez and took over at second base. But Baez is starting to heat up, hitting .296 with two homers, 10 RBI, six walks and 20 strikeouts through 19 games at Iowa.
“Of course, he’s on the radar,” Maddon said. “He’s always on the radar. I just heard that he’s doing better. Those little updates on the scoreboard during the game – I read them once in awhile and I noticed that he’s had some really nice games.
“I ask (about him). Apparently, the at-bats have gotten better regarding taking and accepting his walks and striking out less. I just heard everything’s been really good. I don’t know what we feel specifically (about) where he’s at (now). I don’t really dig on that question. But I know that he’s doing well.
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“When is he going to get here? I’m not 100 percent sure. But everything’s going well right now.”
The Cubs are 21-17 and won’t stand pat, recognizing an opportunity this year and feeling a sense of momentum.
The Cubs traded catcher Welington Castillo to the Seattle Mariners for reliever Yoervis Medina. They reshaped the bullpen by designating lefty Phil Coke for assignment and optioning right-hander Brian Schlitter to Iowa. They called up Junior Lake and Mike Baxter from Iowa to improve the bench. Tsuyoshi Wada comes off the disabled list to join the rotation and make his first big-league start this season on Wednesday night in San Diego.
“We’re dealing from a position of strength right now,” Maddon said. “I like the idea that we’ve been playing well and we’re also making moves to improve upon that. That speaks well for the entire group. And there’s more to come. There’s still those guys in the minor leagues that are doing well and keep advancing, too.”