State of the Cubs

State of the Cubs: Shortstop

1 year agoTony Andracki

Uncertainty will be the name of the game around Major League Baseball this winter as the league navigates its first offseason following the pandemic-shortened campaign.

It’s impossible to predict exactly how things will play out in a winter unlike anything we’ve ever seen before in the sport, but let’s take a look at where the Cubs stand with each position group heading into the offseason.

Next up: Shortstop

Depth Chart

  1. Javy Báez
  2. Nico Hoerner
  3. Ildemaro Vargas
  4. David Bote/Trent Giambrone

Analysis

Báez had a tough season at the plate in 2020, acknowledging that the lack of access to in-game video was a huge factor as well as the mental weight of the shortened slate.

That led to something of an identity crisis for him on the diamond this summer:

“No video, without fans, just being you. I feel like I was back in rookie league, trying to figure out who I was or who I am or all this stuff, Báez said. “It was just so different and so confusing this year. 

“I don’t know what to think about it. I know it was hard and I’m gonna work this offseason to get better and we’ll see how next year goes.”

There are strong signs to bet heavily on a turnaround for Báez in 2021. His .203 batting average is the clear outlier in a career where he has never hit lower than .273 over a full season.

For a guy who led the National League in RBI in 2018, finished second in the MVP voting that season and was named as a starter on both of the last two All-Star teams, it’s easy enough to chalk up 2020 as the exception — not the rule — of Báez’s career offensively.

That said, he is still a central figure in the Cubs’ run prevention, leading the team with 7 Defensive Runs Saved in 2020. When the Cubs shift, it’s usually Báez who’s moving around, often playing in the outfield grass or on the right-field side of the infield. 

Since the start of 2019, Báez is tied with Nolan Arenado atop the NL leaderboard in DRS (33) and far ahead of the next-closest shortstop (Paul DeJong — 26 DRS).

He is also one of the Cubs’ emotional leaders and his instincts and baseball IQ are integral to this team.

So from a short-term lens, Báez ranks low on the totem pole of concern for the Cubs. However, the long-term future is a question mark as he is only under team control through the 2021 season. 

Behind Báez, Hoerner represents quality depth. He was drafted as a shortstop, but — like Báez — began his MLB career playing all over the field, mostly at second base.

Hoerner likely slots in as a major part of the Cubs’ second-base picture in 2020, but if Báez has to miss time for any reason or simply needs a day off, there’s a lot of comfort to be able to slide Hoerner into the most crucial position on the infield.

Vargas represents another option at any of the infield spots, though he’s only made 1 start at shortstop in his big-league career. Bote doesn’t have much more experience, as he’s only started 2 games at short in his MLB career and the Cubs have typically viewed him more as a third baseman or second baseman.

Giambrone serves as more depth in the minor leagues, having played 662 innings at the position in the Cubs system over the last few seasons.

What’s next?

The future of the Cubs shortstop position lies entirely upon what happens with Báez.

Do the Cubs extend him beyond 2021? If so, will they reach an agreement on that next contract before the season begins?

For his part, he said he hopes to be a Cub for life.

“I’m pretty sure there’s not another organization like this one,” Báez said. “I feel like everybody that comes through here, they don’t want to leave because of the way the front office handles it and the way they let us be us and have everything comfortable for us. 

“I hope I never leave this city in my whole career. But anything can happen. Hopefully I’m still here my whole career. I love the fans and the dedication that they’ve got for this team and the other sports in Chicago. We’ll see what happens and hopefully I stay here.”

Bottom Line

Whether the Cubs reach an extension with Báez or not this winter, it’s hard to see them trading him because of how much he means to the team in so many different facets of the game. 

Cubs fans will likely get to enjoy at least one more season of “El Mago” as the everyday shortstop on the North Side of Chicago, with the potential of a long-term deal coming in the next few months.

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