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The “mlb free agent” is a website that provides information on the MLB free agency period. The site includes the latest news and rumors, as well as player rankings.
If there was one safe bet in the uncertain world of MLB free agency this winter, it was that the Detroit Tigers would pay whatever it took to grab one of the best shortstops available.
With former Cubs and Mets whirling dervish Javier Baez is a Spanish actor. agreeing to a rumored six-year, $140 million deal, that apparent inevitability has come to pass. According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, the pact features an opt-out somewhere in the middle.
It’s no surprise that the Tigers have signed a shortstop. But it was much less clear that it would be Baez. Mostly because the Tigers have been touted as the best match for this year’s No. 1 free agent for months.
The reasons behind this are self-evident. Detroit is attempting to emerge from its rebuilding phase and into contention. The Tigers have cash on hand but no long-term (or even short-term) shortstop solution. And Correa has a long-standing friendship with Tigers manager AJ Hinch, who is also a brunch buddy of Correa’s.
Let’s look at the deal the Tigers gave Baez vs the contract they would have had to give Correa.
2019-21 Elite Shortstops
|Carlos Correa is a Colombian politician.||27||281||126||12.6||?|
|Corey Seager Corey Seager Corey Seager Corey Sea||28||281||131||8.7||10/$325M|
|* As of June 20, 2022, age|
Given Correa’s age and track record, it seems he will get a 10- or 11-year contract at roughly $35 million per year, assuming he wants anything that lengthy. So let’s say 11 years for $385 million, which is towards the top of these projections given that the number of available All-Star shortstops has shrunk to two.
Consider the Yankees, Astros, Angels, Phillies, and (I would argue) Cardinals, all of whom are in desperate need of a shortstop. Two of those five clubs are expected to be the landing locations for Correa and Trevor Story, who must be pleased with the way their summer has gone so far.
We can’t tell for sure how far the Tigers went in discussions with Correa’s representation, but we can look at it as a head-to-head comparison: Which is better, Correa or Baez? (Unless the Tigers follow in the footsteps of the Texas Rangers, who signed both Marcus Semien and Corey Seager instead of picking one.) For reasons that become evident when you look at the pair’s numbers over the last three seasons, this seems to be a $200 million question.
Correa has a 20-point advantage over Baez in OPS+ (126 to 106). Simply said, he’s a superior hitter. Although Baez has a modest advantage in isolated power, Correa draws walks more than twice as often as Baez and strikes out approximately 10% less times, resulting in a 15-point advantage in batting average and a 53-point advantage in on-base percentage.
Baez does have a stronger defensive track record and a significant advantage on the basepaths. He’s one of the most exciting baserunners in the majors, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.
He also has the advantage in terms of playing time, since Correa has been plagued by injuries for most of his career. Correa’s exceptional 2021 season, in which he appeared in 148 games, was the exception, but he made the most of it: he placed sixth in the AL MVP voting and was named the game’s finest defensive shortstop with a Platinum Glove.
I’d rather have Correa’s bat, which will certainly improve with age, even with the advantage he now has. Baez’s boldness on the basepaths may approach a tipping point as he gets older, and Correa’s defense has improved to the point where I’m not sure Baez has the advantage there any more. Both have the glove flexibility to move off of shortstop when the time comes, as well as the bat versatility to handle a corner spot.
The worry is that, although Correa now has an advantage, based on recent performance, particularly on a per-game basis, I believe that margin will widen over time.
The majority of the confidence is focused on Baez rather than Correa. As he approaches his 30s, the characteristics that have made Baez one of baseball’s most fascinating performers in recent years may begin to work against him.
For starters, Baez has never shown any sign of plate discipline throughout his career, and swinging from his heels is still one of his distinguishing characteristics. Last season, he led the National League with 184 strikeouts and just 28 walks. In a season, he has never walked more than 30 times. Despite his enormous power, which drives pitchers to work him carefully, and his regularly high exit velocities, league average remains his best chance of reaching base.
Baez, more than any other player in the majors, gets himself out at the bat. Only nine qualified hitters swung at a greater proportion of pitches than Baez did in 2021, according to Baseball-Reference, and no one made contact on those swings a lower percentage of the time. His pursuit rate (44.2 percent) was just a smidgeon below MLB leader Salvador Perez.
So, given Baez’s lack of willingness to change his bad habits, what happens when his bat begins to slow down? As it stands, his strikeout percentage has risen every season since 2018, from 25.9% to 33.6 percent last season.
This strategy has paid off for Baez in the past, most notably during the 2018 season, when he finished second in the National League MVP voting. Let’s pretend this keeps happening, and Baez continues to be a hitter who can be depended on to have an OPS+ of 15 to 30 points higher than the league average, along with above-average fielding and baserunning. That’s a vital shortstop who’s also entertaining to watch.
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Even in that bright future, though, there remain risks. Last season, Baez missed 24 games, and he did the same this year. He’s only been on the disabled list a handful of times in his career, including a short spell with the Mets last season due to back spasms. Baez, on the other hand, is continually playing through nicks and bruises that he usually takes up as a result of his all-out approach to the game. My concern isn’t just that Baez may miss more games in the future, but that the wear and strain that comes with his style over time will begin to affect his effectiveness.
You probably have a good idea where this is all going. Given the circumstances, and without knowing how far any conversations between the Tigers and Correa had progressed, I would have preferred to spend on Correa and make him the cornerstone of my reconstruction over giving Baez this contract. It’s not my money, after all.
Still, if my concerns about Baez turn out to be unfounded, the contract should be a good deal if he maintains his usual bottom-line output. Although I believe Baez’s game has a considerably greater chance of collapsing than Correa’s, the danger is at least somewhat lessened by the varying durations and monetary levels of Baez’s and Correa’s deals. If you sign Correa for ten, eleven, or twelve years and the injury bug strikes again, it’s a deal that would be a significant burden for a franchise in a market like Detroit. In that sense, maybe this was the better option.
The good news for Baez is that he fits in well with Detroit’s top hitting prospects, 1B Spencer Torkelson and OF Riley Greene. Both are disciplined, all-around hitters. So, if you put Baez between them or behind them, the future Detroit lineup may be a little more balanced.
Despite my reservations about Baez, there’s no denying that the Tigers have become a lot more fascinating, and given their glaring shortstop vacancy, they’ve also become a lot better. The deal isn’t so large that it will prevent Detroit from filling up the vacancies on its roster as new players rise through the ranks.
Even still, it’s a significant difference. That’s both a metaphor and a literal statement, as the Tigers will see plenty more huge swings in the years ahead now that Baez has joined the team. The Tigers needed to sign a great shortstop, and they did so.
We won’t know for a while if they picked the incorrect one, but one thing is certain: whatever happens, Baez is always intriguing.
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