Cubs Insider

Báez on Cubs talks: 'We were 5 days from getting it done'

Cubs Insider

DETROIT — Cubs president Jed Hoyer talked a lot last year about the timing of having so many All-Star core players reach free agency at once, and then embarked on a trade-deadline purge unprecedented for the team.

But try this for timing and its impact on life and baseball teams:

If not for five days in 2020, that trade deadline, this season’s roster, and the competitive outlook for the Cubs in the short-term might look completely different.

“I thought it was going to happen,” Báez told NBC Sports Chicago. “We were five days from getting it done. And then the pandemic hit.”

Five days and a once-in-a-century pandemic.

It was the difference between having one of the most popular Cubs of the recent core locked in at short for six or seven more years as the bridge to the next core, and what has taken on the look of a multiyear rebuild.

Take it for what it’s worth as COVID-19 continues to mutate and hospitalize people worldwide two years later.

But in the trivial corner of the world where baseball and “biblical” losses converge, Five Days in March might tell as much of the story as anything else of what happened to the last Cubs championship core after 2020 and the dominoes Hoyer chose to knock over in his pursuit of the “next great Cubs team” after Theo Epstein ducked out with a year left on his contract.

“It was really, really close,” Báez said. “More than anybody thinks.”


Once the pandemic shut down spring camps at that point in mid-March, talks were suspended, too. And by the time the sport resumed that summer with strict testing and safety protocols — and no fans allowed in the stands — the window closed.

Within months, Kyle Schwarber was non-tendered and Yu Darvish traded in cost-cutting moves. And after a failed attempt in the spring to extend Anthony Rizzo at a discount, Hoyer’s next move was underway.

“There was no reason to go halfway,” Hoyer said at the deadline after a 20-hour span that sent Rizzo, Báez and Kris Bryant to points across the baseball map — among nine players traded overall in the days leading up to the deadline.

Báez, who signed with the Tigers for six years, $140 million, was the one that got away in terms of high value and most desired to bridge the last core to the next one.

Bryant’s departure as a free agent was a foregone conclusion to some in the front office as soon as he was drafted and definitely after extension talks went nowhere in the 2016-17 offseason. Rizzo, who’s three years older than Báez, was viewed as an extension candidate for the right price but with less urgency, some of his value tied to the almost symbolic face-of-the-franchise status.

Once the decision was made to trade them, the team did not intend to revisit the scrutiny and optics of those departures by pursuing returns as free agents, especially at significant cost.

Bryant, Rizzo and Báez signed deals for a combined $358 million. Add Schwarber’s deal with the Phillies, and it’s $437 million for the four.

“People got different plans,” Báez said. “It was hard leaving Chicago.”

Despite a report last year that Báez had turned down $180 million from the Cubs during that negotiation in 2020, he said “we didn’t get exactly to a number.”

But with five more days to work with in 2020, it might be Báez at short now instead of Andrelton Simmons on the injured list with a sore shoulder. Along with prized free agents Marcus Stroman and Seiya Suzuki added to the mix — and a much different tone to the timeline on that “next great Cubs team.”

Who knows? Maybe Rizzo’s even still around in that scenario. Or maybe Willson Contreras isn't waiting on deck for the next trade deadline.

For his part, Báez said he has no regrets.

“They made my career. They made my name,” he said of the Cubs, who drafted him ninth overall in 2011. “I’m grateful. And I’m thankful, obviously, that we won, [and after] what we came from — from losing teams to a winning organization.”

Will the Cubs regret letting him — or the other core guys — go?

“That’s a tough one. I don’t know,” Báez said. “Everybody’s got their plans. Hopefully, they made the right decision for the team and the future.”

He does know he took a lot of public heat on the way out, including a rough 2020 season and even into his free agency.


“A lot of people doubted my talent, doubted my name — what he’s going to do in the future, if he’s going to strike out a lot,” Báez said. “I’m not here to prove anybody wrong. I’m just here to do me and let the numbers be the numbers at the end of my career.”

Báez is off to a good start this season, including a walkoff drive off the right field wall to beat the White Sox on Opening Day and a two-run homer for the difference in a win over the Red Sox on Monday.

He said the rebuild vibe in Detroit is different than the turnaround years in Chicago.

“Here is a little different with a lot of young guys,” he said. “We had a lot of young guys in ’16, but we also had other veterans, too, so it was kind of in-between. We’ve just got to go out there and play.”

Which raises the obvious question:

Who gets to the playoffs first: those Tigers or these Cubs?\

“Tigers,” he said. “I’m over here now.”

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