After Javier Baez goes viral again, how will Cubs handle their defensive star?


MESA, Ariz. – How will Javier Baez handle going from World Series star and viral sensation to utility player and defensive replacement?  

That's a nonissue for manager Joe Maddon when it's not even St. Patrick's Day yet and the Cubs are still more than two weeks out from Opening Night. But it's a question worth asking again after Twitter exploded on Tuesday night with another spectacular Baez highlight – the celebratory point at Team Puerto Rico catcher Yadier Molina before even catching the ball and the no-look tag in the World Baseball Classic.

"We've already had that (conversation)," Maddon said Wednesday at the Sloan Park complex. "That was part of the meeting that we had with everybody, to talk bluntly about how this is all going to play out. He understood that. And he's fine with it." 

That means no repeat of the breakout playoff performance where Baez started all 17 games at second base and emerged as a National League Championship Series co-MVP. The plan is Baez will help preserve Ben Zobrist – who will turn 36 in May and has played through back-to-back World Series – and give All-Star shortstop Addison Russell some days off this season.

"He's going to play a lot," Maddon said. "But we've already had that method of conversation with him before he even practiced here. We explained everything clearly to him. He was really good about everything. He gets it.

"He will remain ready. Even if he doesn't start a game, he's going to probably play in it at some point. And then he's going to get his share of starts, too." 

That sounds great in theory. But Baez is coming off the high from a World Series run where he proved he's one of the game's most dynamic young players, a whirlwind offseason tour that took him to Disney World, the Latin Grammys and the White House, and now this World Baseball Classic showcase.

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Of course, the Cubs built layers into the roster with versatile players like Baez, Zobrist and Kris Bryant. Maddon plays matchups and believes in the concept of rest. The analytics may show that Baez should play third base on certain nights.
It only took until Game 3 last season before the Cubs experienced their first roster crisis here in Arizona, when Kyle Schwarber crashed into Dexter Fowler chasing after a ball blasted into Chase Field's left-center gap.

"These are nice problems to have," Maddon said. "Last year, nothing stands out more significantly than Schwarber and: ‘How are we going to play Dexter? And how are we going to get (Jorge) Soler at-bats?' And then all of a sudden you're getting (Chris) Coghlan back, so all these things happen. 

"We'll let it play. I'm not worried right now. I just want them to all be healthy and then make it a difficult choice. That would be great."

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