Báez aims to set better example for Cubs in '20

February 16th, 2020

MESA, Ariz. -- has moved his belongings into the locker that previously belonged to veteran reliever Pedro Strop in the Cubs' spring complex. Strop, who signed with the Reds over the offseason, was a vocal leader in the room, influential for Chicago's Latin players and someone Báez looked up to like a big brother.

"He's the guy that you want to have right next to you. He's a leader," Báez said. "It's going to be hard not having him right next to me."

On Sunday morning, Báez spoke with reporters for nearly 20 minutes and, in his own way, embraced some of the leadership skills that he saw in Strop. While discussing what went wrong during the Cubs' 2019 season, Báez did not just cite a lack of daily preparation in a general sense, he shouldered much of the blame.

Báez said he was guilty of not preparing enough before each game, choosing instead to do his work indoors and skipping most of the optional workouts. As the shortstop reflects on some of the things that contributed to Chicago's 84-win season -- one that cost former manager Joe Maddon his job -- he knows he could have led better by example.

Báez then promised that everyone would see a different approach from him in 2020. He plans on being more involved in the pregame team drills, rather than sticking only to his own personalized routine away from his teammates.

"I just feel like a lot of players were doing the same as me," Báez said. "They were getting loose during the game and you can lose the game in the first inning. And, sometimes when you're not ready, and the other team scores by something simple, I feel like it was because of that. It was because we weren't ready. We weren't ready to throw the first pitch."

At the end of last season, Báez spoke up about players sticking to more individual routines rather than working together as a team. Improving that aspect is something president of baseball operations Theo Epstein mentioned multiple times over the offseason, and it has been a theme within new manager David Ross' messaging about his goals for the year ahead.

Ross said Báez bringing it up again at the start of Spring Training can carry a lot of weight around the room.

"These guys are the ones that are out there performing and preparing and doing all their homework," Ross said of the players. "So, the fact that Javy says that, I just think that's such a powerful message, to see where his mind is and where this group's mind is coming into this season."

Báez expressed excitement to play under Ross, whom the shortstop used to pepper with questions when they were teammates with the Cubs. Báez recalled a time when Ross -- as a veteran catcher for Chicago -- told the young shortstop to focus more on learning from his experiences than firing off question after question after question.

"Sometimes when you hear so many voices," Ross said, "you don't know who you are."

Given his criticisms of the team's preparation last season, Báez was asked if the group needed a new voice at the helm.

"No. I mean, Joe was great for us," Báez said. "Obviously, he brought the World Series to us. You guys see the business side. I don't know what it was, what happened. But, obviously, Joe was great for me, for the organization, for the city, for everybody. We thank him a lot."

The other part of the business side involving Báez centers on whether the Cubs can sign the shortstop to a long-term extension.

Over the offseason, the two sides discussed a mutiyear pact to some degree, but Báez said it was an "up and down" process. The Cubs ultimately signed the shortstop to a one-year, $10 million contract to avoid arbitration for '20. While Báez did not say Opening Day was a hard deadline for talks, he did state a preference to avoid any distractions once the season arrives.

"It depends on my agency and how they want to do it," Báez said. "But, I do want to be focused on baseball."

Báez repeated, as he has so often, that he would love to spend his entire career with the Cubs. And, maybe he will never be as much of a vocal leader as Strop was for so many years, but the shortstop is clearly embracing the influence he does have in the room.

"It's going to be different without his voice here," Báez said. "But we're still going to be ourselves, be leaders."