Báez's 2020 mindset: play first, contract later

SS spent quarantine hitting against Twins ace Berríos in PR

July 10th, 2020

CHICAGO -- Not everyone has an ace pitcher as their neighbor. Fortunately for Cubs shortstop , he not only had one down the road from him back home in Puerto Rico, but also in his family.

While awaiting the return of baseball over the last three months, Báez was able to keep his swing sharp with some live hitting workouts against his brother-in-law, Twins ace . They have squared off in two All-Star Games with TV cameras catching their smiles and laughs in packed ballparks. It may have been even more intense on the diamond on their home island.

"It was fun for me," Báez said in a Zoom call on Thursday. "But it was kind of scary, man. He throws too hard for that early."

Báez spoke with a hood pulled over the top of his head and his glove slid over his left hand -- like a kid who just can't get enough of the game he loves. He expressed relief everyone in his family was healthy, and he was thankful that they were able to join him in Chicago as baseball attempts to stage the 2020 season during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There was no hesitation on Báez's part to play under the unique set of circumstances, but the current environment has caused a pause on another front. Earlier this week, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer noted that the front office's focus was on the season at hand, not on any contract extensions or trade talks. Báez echoed that stance, noting that any discussion about a long-term deal is on hold.

"It's been really difficult with all that's happening right now," Báez said. "We have a really good communication, relationship between me and the owners, and obviously my agent. I think when this goes past, I think we're going to talk. We're going to obviously stay in touch."

The 27-year-old Báez is one of a handful of the Cubs’ core players who are on target for free agency following the 2021 season. Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are among the others, with Willson Contreras eligible for free agency after the '22 campaign. This past offseason, Báez and the Cubs were engaged in extension talks, but they settled on a one-year, $10 million deal to avoid arbitration.

Two years ago, Báez was the runner-up for the National League Most Valuable Player Award. Last season, the shortstop hit .281 with 29 homers, 38 doubles, 85 RBIs and 89 runs scored, but he was limited to 138 games due to injury. He was the starting shortstop for the NL All-Star team in 2019 after being the starting second baseman one year earlier. And Báez led all infielders with 19 Outs Above Average in '19.

"They know me," Báez said. "I'm pretty sure every team knows me and knows what I can do."

Báez emphasized that his focus right now is on preparing for the 60-game schedule in front of the Cubs this season, rather than on inking a multiyear pact. The shortstop added that he did not feel a sense of urgency to get something done in the current climate.

"Everybody wants to get paid, but we've got to wait for the right time," Báez said. "We're going to know what's going to be right for each other. I'm not in a rush. Obviously, right now I'm worried about getting back to the field and playing regular games, and obviously [trying] to win this season that is going to be so weird.

"Honestly, with this happening right now, it's going to change everything. It already changed 2020."

Báez said he spent the past few months between his house and his ranch in Puerto Rico, focusing on his family and getting his daily work in. It helped that Berríos was on a schedule that including throwing to hitters each Friday as he tried to stay ready for the Twins. Berríos would face Báez and his brother, along with some other amateur players in the area.

"Javy was there every day," Berríos told Twins reporters earlier in Summer Camp. "They helped me to try to be ready day-by-day."

At one point, Báez even donned catcher's gear and caught some pitches from his brother-in-law.

"It was great," Báez said with a smirk. "I thought it was going to be harder."