Putting 2020 in the rearview, Javy Báez focused on what’s next with Cubs
MESA, Ariz. — Javy Báez is trying to strike the perfect balance between moving on from last year and not thinking about his long-term future.
It’s impossible to truly take both of those aspects out of the equation.
2020 happened — no matter how many people want to forget it. And Báez is entering his final season before free agency, so the next few months are pivotal in terms of writing the next chapter of his life.
If Báez had his way, his future would already be determined.
“I want to stay here,” he said emphatically Friday on a Zoom with media. “I don’t want to play for another team. The way that our fans show us the love…I don’t want to go anywhere.”
Báez said he anticipates talking to Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer sometime this spring regarding a contract extension. He expects there to be a deadline of some sort on contract talks this spring so he can focus on the season without the added pressure.
Even if he doesn’t acquire the long-term security of an extension, Báez is looking forward to playing a much more normal season in 2021.
He is coming off a 2020 in which he posted an OPS (.599) nearly 200 points below his career mark (.777) and admitted throughout the year that the lack of in-game video and fans impacted his game on the field.
Báez likes to use in-game video to see how a pitcher is attacking him on that particular day or to gain visual confirmation on his timing or swing mechanics. After a year without any video, it’s still unknown exactly how it will return to the game but there will likely be iPads in the dugout to view previous at-bats with the catcher’s signs blocked out.
“Last year, man, I don’t want to talk about last year,” Báez said. “It was frustrating to me, to a lot of players. It was two months of baseball. I felt in a rush. I felt like I didn’t have time to make adjustments.
“I’m not the guy that shows you everything I got in the first half. I can have a bad half or a decent first half and then my second half, I can make my first half disappear. We didn’t have that. I didn’t have that trust in me. I was [physically] ready. I was not mentally ready for what happened last year.
“I always like to compete and better myself everyday. Last year offensively was tough for me. This year, we got the video. I got the comfort in that. It’s gonna be great for me.”
More than any other Cub, Báez was impacted by the empty — and silent — stadiums. He feeds off the energy of the crowd and the adrenaline of the moment.
“It was the worst,” he said of the fan-less games. “It was worse than facing a pitcher in spring training on the back field, to be honest. I didn’t like it at all.”
Looking back on the last seven years, it’s been quite the roller coaster for Báez.
He made his debut in the middle of 2014, then didn’t come back up to the majors until September of 2015. He played a huge role in the postseason in 2015 and ’16, helping end the 108-year championship drought. Then in 2018, he became a bonafide MVP candidate, finishing second in voting to Christian Yelich.
Báez’s 2019 season ended prematurely due to a broken thumb and then 2020 was…well, 2020.
So what will 2021 bring?
“I’m looking for a great season from Javy,” said David Ross, who has watched Báez grow over the last six years as a teammate first and now as his manager. “I think he’s gonna have a special year. Getting fans back in the stands, getting video back — all those things that play into a normal routine for him and just some of the things that we’ve had conversations about.
“I think he’s in a good place going into this year.”