Circumstances change, though. And now, as Boston deals with various injuries in wake of Xander Bogaerts’ offseason departure, it’s fair to wonder whether the Red Sox should call the Detroit Tigers about a possible trade for Báez — under one condition.
That stipulation? The Tigers absorbing a significant portion of Báez’s salary, a possibility raised Monday by The Athletic’s Jim Bowden in a piece examining which MLB teams and players to watch leading up to this year’s trade deadline.
Here’s what Bowden, a former MLB general manager, wrote about Báez:
Javier Báez has struggled since signing a six-year, $140 million contract before the 2022 season and this year is batting .259 with two home runs and 15 RBIs. He has an opt-out clause after this season, but it’s doubtful he exercises it because no one is going to match the $98 million over four years that he’s owed for the rest of his contract. However, if the Tigers want to get creative and agree to pay half of what remains on his deal, and Báez turns around his season, he might be tradable to a contender. His ability to play above-average defense at second base, shortstop and third base increases the pool of teams that would have interest if his contract was paid down significantly.
In a vacuum, trading for Báez makes little sense. As Bowden mentioned, he simply hasn’t been good since landing in the Motor City, slashing .238/.278/.393 with 17 home runs, 67 RBIs and 147 strikeouts to just 26 walks in 590 plate appearances last season before enduring more offensive issues this season. And it’s not like the problems are completely out of nowhere, either. The two-time All-Star long has had a ton of swing and miss in his game.
That said, the tools always have been impressive. There’s something to be said for finishing second in National League MVP voting — as Báez did with the Chicago Cubs in 2018 — and the 30-year-old plays the game with undeniable energy. His low floor comes with a high ceiling, and so long as the Red Sox — or anyone else — can stomach that variance, he represents a fascinating trade candidate over the next several months, especially if the Tigers demonstrate a willingness to eat a chunk of Báez’s contract in hopes of enhancing the return package. This, of course, assumes Detroit sells off pieces while struggling to gain ground in the American League Central.
The Red Sox, conversely, have been surprisingly successful in the early going, entering Monday with a 21-15 record after winning eight of their last nine games. The jury remains out on whether Boston is a legitimate contender, which, of course, could determine how chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom approaches the MLB trade deadline. But if the Red Sox become buyers, it’s possible they’ll look for help up the middle, where they’ve been operating with a revolving door thanks to injuries to Story, Adalberto Mondesi, Yu Chang and Christian Arroyo.
Kiké Hernández’s versatility has been a saving grace for Boston, even with some inconsistent infield defense, and the Red Sox have been forced to lean heavily on rookie Enmanuel Valdez. The return of Adam Duvall will bolster Boston’s outfield depth, and pitching reinforcements (Garrett Whitlock, James Paxton and Joely Rodríguez) could improve Boston’s mound performance. But it’s clear the middle infield has been a glaring weakness. The Red Sox rank 26th in fWAR (-0.1) from shortstop; 22nd (0.2) from second base.
For all his warts offensively, Báez remains an elite defender, ranking first among MLB shortstops in defensive runs saved and FanGraphs’ Def score this season. He won a Gold Glove in 2020, and his ability to play second base (plus third base in a pinch) holds value, as well. His overall appeal largely depends on a team’s roster construction and, again, where the Tigers stand when it comes to the complicated financial implications of such a trade.
The Red Sox probably won’t be in the Báez market. After all, Story and Mondesi figure to join the mix at some point after not yet playing in 2023. But these are the types of hypotheticals we at least can start pondering if Boston continues to solidify itself as a playoff hopeful.