Javy Báez Confirms Cubs Extension Was ‘Really, Really Close’ Before Pandemic Hit

There’s not much value in picking at scabs that have nearly healed, so I’m not going to do a deep dive into what is otherwise a stale topic. But since it provides even further clarity to a story that died out in the wake of the pandemic in 2020, I felt it was worthwhile to take a look at the comments Javier Báez shared with Gordon Wittenmyer of NBC Sports Chicago.

“I thought it was going to happen,” Báez said of the extension that never was. “We were five days from getting it done. And then the pandemic hit.”

Wittenmyer, then with the Sun-Times, had reported in November of 2019 that the two sides had begun negotiations and Javy said in early March of ’20 that a deal was close.

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

Though Javy said “we didn’t get exactly to a number,” Buster Olney reported last April that the shortstop turned down an offer in the $180 million range. Before you go comparing that directly to the six-year, $140 million he got from the Tigers and holding it up as an example of Jed Hoyer being “right” or whatever, consider that we’re still talking pre-2020 in terms of the timing of the proposal.

Javy ended up having a disastrous season, posting -0.1 fWAR during a shortened campaign in which he simply never got it going. He bounced back well in ’21 to hit 31 homers in 138 games between Chicago and New York, but the stank of the previous year and the choice not to negotiate during the season meant his fate was more or less sealed when the Cubs broke camp.

When you add in the $21.45 million in arbitration salaries from his last two years in Chicago, Javy is at a total of $161.45 over an eight-year period. Assuming the reported offer above was over eight years, the difference breaks down to just over $2.3 million AAV. And that’s if none of the hypothetical amount was tied up in club options, which could very well have been the case.

What I’m driving at is that this is not a matter of Hoyer and the Cubs making an offer that stood up well over time as much as it’s a function of Javy having a terrible season that hurt his value at the worst possible juncture. The Cubs surely wanted to capitalize on that with a much lower package and Javy preferred to improve his outlook rather than flailing for a life preserver, so there was just no way anything was getting done prior to last season.

It’s unfortunate that things had to work out the way they did, though the Cubs did at least get outfield prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong — who Marquee’s Lance Brozdowski ranks as the Cubs’ No. 2 prospect — from the Mets. Still, it sucks to lose a dynamic fan favorite who played such a huge role. But what really adds insult to injury is that the Cubs didn’t parlay the “savings” from not extending Báez, Kris Bryant, or Anthony Rizzo into more big-ticket free agents.

Based on this estimate, the Cubs will carry a 2022 payroll of roughly $144 million. That is around $8 million less than last season, $55 million less than 2020 (before proration), and $78 million less than in 2019. Even if you agree with what Tom Ricketts says about money not buying championships, there’s no legitimate excuse for the Cubs not to carry a top-5 payroll of around $200 million every season. Not when they’re building sportsbooks and charging $14 for beer at Wrigley.

Sorry, I tend to lose track of time when I’m up on my soapbox.

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