CHICAGO -- When Kristopher Bryant won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 2016, he was commended for his ability to post stellar numbers while playing multiple positions as he switched from third base to the outfield. Javier Baez's versatility may help the Cubs' talented infielder in the MVP
CHICAGO -- When Kristopher Bryant won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 2016, he was commended for his ability to post stellar numbers while playing multiple positions as he switched from third base to the outfield. Javier Baez's versatility may help the Cubs' talented infielder in the MVP race as well.
Baez is one of three finalists for the 2018 Baseball Writers' Association of America NL MVP Award, joining the Brewers' Christian Yelich and the Rockies' Nolan Arenado. The winner will be announced Nov. 15.
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Baez had a breakout season, setting career highs in batting average (.290), doubles (40), home runs (34) and RBIs (111) and was named the starting second baseman for the NL All-Star team. He led the league in RBIs and paced Chicago in doubles, triples (nine) and home runs. Baez is the first Cubs player to lead the NL in RBIs since Sammy Sosa drove in 160 in 2001.
Baez also is the first player in Major League history to reach 40 doubles, nine triples, 34 homers, 111 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in a single season.
You didn't want to miss a Baez at-bat, nor any time he got on base. Nicknamed "El Mago," Spanish for "The Magician," Baez stole home on June 3 against the Mets, the third time he's done so in his career. He delivered at the plate, too. On June 26, he went 4-for-5 with a double, two home runs -- including a grand slam -- and five RBIs.
But what separates Baez from the pack are his defensive skills. He was a finalist for the Rawlings Gold Glove Award at second base but also could have been considered at shortstop and third. He started 75 games at second, 52 games at shortstop and 18 games at third.
"Javy, this year, is the best second baseman in baseball, and he can play short and third," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said in September. "I'm certain we can throw him in the outfield. He's Gold Glove caliber at any position he plays, and combine that with the power, the RBIs, the batting average.
"It's hard for anybody to match up with him; his overall skill set, his baserunning, arm strength, ability to throw off balance. You just keep going down the list of things he can do that on other teams, maybe one guy can do one or two of these things, but nobody can do all of the things he can do. He's just different."
What makes Baez even more valuable to the Cubs is the infielder's team-first attitude, said president of baseball operations Theo Epstein.
"He cares so much about winning, and he cares about his teammates, doing little things to help engage them and get them better," Epstein said in October. "Those intangibles behind the scenes are part of what makes him more valuable."
Baez heard fans chanting "M-V-P, M-V-P" during his at-bats but didn't let all the attention go to his head.
"He poured that energy back into the team and back out onto the field where it should be," Epstein said. "It was really impressive. What a year for that kid."
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.