The Detroit Tigers have reached an agreement on a six-year, $140 million contract with free-agent shortstop Javier Baez, a source with knowledge of the situation told the Free Press on Tuesday morning. He has an opt-out in his contract.
The Tigers have now acquired three key pieces this offseason, giving the team a better chance of making the postseason: Baez, left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez and catcher Tucker Barnhart. Detroit finished 77-85 overall in 2021 under manager AJ Hinch and is trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
The team has not announced the deal, as it is pending a physical.
“We want winners here,” Hinch said Nov. 22 at Comerica Park. “We want to win. … There’s a ton of interest in coming to Detroit by a variety of players, and that’s because people are aware that our trajectory is going in the right direction.”
Baez, who turns 29 on Wednesday, has hit .264 with 149 home runs and 465 RBIs in 862 career games. He spent eight seasons with the Chicago Cubs before a move at the 2021 trade deadline in July sent him to the New York Mets. He has a career 4.8% walk rate and 29.3% strikeout rate.
Teams are currently bracing for the likelihood of a lockout by MLB owners — which would freeze transactions — upon the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement. The CBA expires at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday. Approximately 48 hours is needed to complete physicals and process trades.
On Sunday, the Texas Rangers signed shortstop Marcus Semien to a seven-year, $175 million deal. The Tigers were unwilling to go past six years for Semien’s services, according to a source with knowledge of the negotiations. The next day, the Rangers continued their spending by adding shortstop Corey Seager on a 10-year, $325 million contract.
The Rangers, a 102-loss team last season, have committed a whopping $561.2 million on free agents so far this offseason. Meanwhile, Detroit’s leaders — general manager Al Avila and owner Christopher Ilitch — continued to shy away from spending $300 million for one player.
At 1:51 a.m. Tuesday, the Baez became “close to signing a multi-year deal” with the Tigers, according to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi.
“I’m not going to get into what’s sustainable and what’s not sustainable, and what’s a good deal and what’s a bad deal,” Avila said Nov. 22. “Every club will make its decision on their own payroll. I really won’t make a comment on that. In our situation, shortstop is a need. Quite frankly, one big splash does not win you the offseason. It’s making some smart moves along the way and putting together a good 26-man roster.”
Baez posted a .265 batting average, 31 home runs, 87 RBIs, 28 walks and 184 strikeouts in 138 games between the Cubs (91 games) and Mets (47 games) last season, along with 18 stolen bases. Upon joining the Mets, he hit .299 with nine homers and slugged .515.
He had a 116 wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus; MLB average is 100), 3.6 wins above replacement and plus-6 Defensive Runs Saved. The downside of his presence in the lineup: His 184 strikeouts in 2021 paced the National League.
His strikeout rate — 29.3% for his career — has gotten worse each year since 2018. But he provides great power, especially for a shortstop, with 23 homers (145 games) in 2017, 34 homers (160 games) in 2018, 29 homers (138 games) in 2019, eight homers (59 games) in 2020 and 31 homers (138 games) in 2021.
Baez provides versatility on defense, with 486 games at shortstop, 320 games at second base, 104 games at third base, 12 games at first base and four games in the outfield. But the Tigers signed him as a shortstop, which is where he will play in 2022 and beyond. He boasts plus-69 DRS across his eight-year career.
In 2018, Baez finished second in NL MVP voting. (Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers won the award.) That year, the two-time All-Star hit .290 with 34 homers, 111 RBIs, 29 walks, 167 strikeouts and 21 stolen bases. He had a .881 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
Baez made his first All-Star Game in 2018, then his second in 2019. He won his first and only Gold Glove at shortstop in 2020.
Spanning 36 playoff games, Baez has hit .221 (27-for-122) with five homers, 14 RBIs, five walks and 41 strikeouts. He earned 2016 NL Championship Series MVP and won the 2016 World Series with the Cubs.
Now that Baez is a Tiger, he will team up with second baseman Jonathan Schoop for what should be an elite up-the-middle combination. Third baseman Jeimer Candelario will return with a raise from the salary arbitration process, while first baseman Spencer Torkelson — the No. 4 prospect in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline — will get a chance to make the Opening Day roster out of spring training.
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Before signing Baez, the Tigers showed interest in Semien, Seager, Carlos Correa and Trevor Story. The Tigers made an offer to Story, but he did not favor their contract proposal, according to an industry source. Correa and Story have yet to sign their free-agent contracts.
Looking ahead, Detroit is expected to sign another starting pitcher to complete their most important offseason tasks, but that might not happen until after a new CBA is in place.
On Nov. 3, the first day of the offseason, the Tigers traded with the Cincinnati Reds to acquire Barnhart. Detroit picked up his $7.5 million team option for 2022 and isn’t ruling out the possibility of a contract extension in the future.
Rodriguez came aboard on a five-year, $77 million contract on Nov. 15. He had interest from the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Angels. Rodriguez can opt out after the second year and has a no-trade clause. He can make up to $3 million in performance bonuses.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers to sign Javier Baez to $140 million contract