Inbox: Does Baez move when Russell returns?

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian fields Cubs fans' questions

April 29th, 2019

Javier Baez has been playing like an MVP right now. Why would the Cubs even consider moving him to second base if/when Addison Russell returns from his suspension? Would you keep Baez at shortstop?
-- Ryan L., Chicago

Over the offseason, Baez was asked by the Sun-Times for his thoughts on which player is currently the best shortstop in baseball. Baez said, "If I'm playing there, it's me," which then led to a fun response by Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor on an Instagram post by MLB.

"NOTED," Lindor wrote.

Given Baez's play of late, you certainly could definitely argue that he is the best shortstop in baseball at this very moment in time. Not only is he slashing .315/.356/.640 with nine home runs, 22 RBIs and 23 runs through 26 games as the Cubs' cleanup hitter, but he's putting on a show on the basepaths and in the field. Heading into Monday's team off-day, Baez had a 154 wRC+, which means he's performing 54 percent better offensively than league average.

The reason for considering a move back to second has always been the defensive aspect. Baez is strong at short, but is even better at second. Russell is one of the better defensive shortstops around. All of that said, Baez is currently tied for second among MLB shortstops with five Defensive Runs Saved -- one behind MLB leader Nick Ahmed (six). Baez is sixth in the National League with 1.8 Defensive Runs, per FanGraphs.

In a recent discussion with reporters about Baez's play as the everyday shortstop, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein did say that "risking interrupting that when we don't have to would be a questionable move." That right there is a strong indication that the Cubs are not necessarily planning to move Baez at the moment. The question then becomes: How would Russell fit into the equation?

Russell has only played shortstop so far with Triple-A Iowa, but Epstein noted that he would also get some time at second. There's a chance he's used as a utility type, offering a great backup to Baez and plus defense for second as well. It would give manager Joe Maddon another chess piece to mix in with utility men David Bote, Daniel Descalso and Ben Zobrist. I think that's the best way to go.

Please tell me Bote doesn't become the "odd-man out" when Russell comes back. How will Maddon keep Bote in the lineup?
-- Nick B., Rockford, Ill.

I think we've already seen a look at how Maddon can make this work. From March 28-April 12, Kris Bryant played 12 games at third base and only one in the outfield. From April 13-28, Bryant has started seven games in the outfield, compared to five at third base. When Bryant is moved to the outfield, Bote typically mans third and Maddon can focus on his other matchup options for second (Descalso or Zobrist).

Let's say Maddon sticks with this more recent approach. He could utilize Zobrist as a corner outfielder and part-time second baseman, giving him the occasional day off. Bryant can bounce between third and the corner outfield spots as well. Russell could be worked in at second, spell Baez at short on occasion and the other players mentioned would fit into the open slots.

Is it a given that Russell returns on Friday against the Cardinals?
-- Zack L., Chicago

No, Friday is just his eligibility date. Russell was only allowed a seven-day Minor League stint prior to coming off the restricted list and that really is not a lot of time. It's possible that the Cubs activate him for Friday's series against the Cardinals, but the club also has the flexibility of optioning Russell to Triple-A to extend his stay. Given how well Baez and Chicago's second-base group are playing, the Cubs may not feel the urgency to activate Russell right away, especially if he might benefit from logging more innings and at-bats. That's all still being discussed behind the scenes.

Give me a reason to believe that Jose Quintana's great start is for real.
-- John B., Denver

Quintana is using his changeup more (11.1 percent in 2019 vs. 6.8 percent in '18) and that has helped him cut back on four-seamers and rely more on his sinker (29.6 percent in '19 vs. 18.6 percent in '18). Overall, the result has been a much better swing-and-miss rate (27.8 percent in '19 vs. 20.8 percent in '18). The lefty is in the zone more, but getting fewer swings and less contact on pitches in the zone. He's getting more chases, but there's been a dramatic drop in contact on chase pitches (46.8 percent in '19 vs. 62.4 percent in '18). That's a great foundation for Quintana to build on over the next five months.

What are the chances Taylor Davis is still on the active roster when Victor Caratini is ready for a return?
-- Logan D., Chicago

The pitchers like throwing to Davis, and he did a fantastic job guiding Yu Darvish through his start on Saturday in Arizona. I just don't see the Cubs carrying three catchers, though. There's a need for multiple utility spots on the bench, and Chicago will want to stay with its bullpen structure. And, while Davis does well in the backup role, Maddon is more comfortable leaning on Caratini more when Willson Contreras needs days off. The last thing the Cubs want to do is run Contreras into the ground. The off-days in April have helped avoid that.