DETROIT – The Tigers’ longstanding search for a short stop is finally drawing to a close. The team spent Monday night getting a long-term deal with former Cubs and Mets star Javier Báez, a source said Jon Morosi at MLB.com. The club has not confirmed the report.
Once closed, the deal is expected to run for six years. The Tigers have not confirmed a deal, although they are known to be in talks.
The development amid a spate of baseball-related free agent signings that led to the MLB collective agreement expiring Wednesday night would end Detroit’s search for the greatest need for a position.
The Tigers focused their rebuilding project on pitching and rode their young starters to a 77-win season in 2021, their best overall win since 2016. With two of baseball’s top scoring prospects, corner infielder Spencer Torkelson and the outfielder Riley Greene, the future already saw bright in Detroit. However, to take the next step towards competition, the Tigers needed a short stop.
The rumored tie was Carlos Correa, who played for coach AJ Hinch in Houston. The two were spotted eating together a few weeks ago, which fueled speculation. However, General Manager Al Avila and his group took a far-reaching approach, engaging with agents for the entire handful of top free agent shortstops in the market.
The shortstop market began to narrow when the Texas Rangers made long-term deals with Marcus Semien on Sunday evening and Corey Seager on Monday. With that, Correa, Báez and Trevor Story remained the top shortstops on the market.
The Tigers came out on Monday with a decision to add a shortstop ahead of the CBA’s expiration and possible work stoppage, whether on a long-term deal with a member of the remaining trio or a smaller deal with a stopgap. Báez would be a long-term solution that gives the Tigers short-term stability for the first time since Jose Iglesias left after the 2018 season as a free agent.
Detroit has had an interest in Báez since his early season with the Cubs after spotting him in potential trade talks. Báez became a two-time National League All-Star in Chicago and was runner-up in the NL MVP in 2018 when he led the league with 111 RBIs, 34 home runs, an average of 0.290 and 0.881 OPS.
Báez was a repeat All-Star in 2019, beating 29 homers with 85 RBIs, an average of 0.281 and 0.847 OPS. He also won an NL Gold Glove that season. He has been trying to return to this all-round form for two years. His stretch run with the Mets, who bought him from the Cubs on Trade Deadline last July, showed a revival of that effect.
After Báez beat .248 with 131 strikeouts over 91 games in Chicago, Báez beat .299 / .371.615 with nine homers and 22 RBIs in 47 games for New York, mostly on second base.
Since Báez was trading in the midseason, he was not eligible to receive a qualifying offer from the Mets. Thus, the Tigers, who abandoned their third round pick in next year’s draft earlier this month to sign Eduardo Rodriguez, don’t have to give up another choice to sign Báez.
The Mets were considered strong favorites to re-sign Báez and keep him in second place alongside Francisco Lindor. But while New York recently added former Tiger Max Scherzer and several other free agent signings, Detroit moved with the chance of a long-term deal and a return to shortstop.
Báez has been a heavy hitter in recent years, but his combination of solid defense, athleticism, and speed fits the profile of the team that Detroit put together in Hinch’s first season as manager in 2021, a new store and welcome to Detroit.