Baez ‘not in a rush to extend,' willing to talk past opener


MESA, Ariz. — For those scoring at home, the Cubs’ spring extension-talk scorecard reads like this with two weeks left in Arizona:

Anthony Rizzo is “very optimistic” a deal will get done and suggested an Opening Day deadline for ongoing talks to conclude;

Kris Bryant is “more at peace” with the likelihood that this may be his final year as a Cub and said that while his door is open, the Cubs haven’t come knocking to reopen talks;

And Javy Báez? The 2018 MVP runner-up and reigning Gold Glove shortstop in the National League on Monday backed off his suggestion last month that he would set a deadline to avoid the distraction of negotiations during the season.

Which might be the most important news of the spring on potential extensions considering how important the starter in the last two All-Star games might be to the Cubs’ efforts to bridge the last championship core to the next.

“It’s just the way it was last year,” said Báez, who was engaged in extension talks with the club a year ago until the pandemic shut down baseball and most of its economy. “Obviously, this year has been a lot different. But we’re not in a hurry. We’ve been talking, but we’ll probably see what’s the deal this last two weeks and see what happens.”

And then?

Báez reiterated how much he wants to stay in Chicago beyond this walk year. He also said that while “we haven’t really talked much” so far this spring, “I’m not in a rush to extend.”

Consider that a willingness to let his agent continue discussions past Opening Day.

“Yeah, yeah. For sure,” he said. “It’s always been like that. That’s his job. They [handle] the numbers. We’ll see. They’ve had really good conversation. They’ve got really good communication. We’ll see what happens when the season starts.”

Báez, Bryant and Rizzo all are eligible for free agency at the end of the season — along with Craig Kimbrel and at least a dozen players added during the offseason (depending on a few 2021 options among the newcomers).

Of the three core guys, Rizzo, 31, appears the likeliest to get something done and perhaps soonest; Bryant, 29, the least likely.

Báez, 28, is the most intriguing.

One of the top players in the game at a premier position, he’s also part of what might be the most star-studded free agent shortstop class in history, depending on whether the likes of Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, Trevor Story and Carlos Correa sign extensions before then with the Mets, Dodgers, Rockies and Astros, respectively.

“Listen, Javy Báez is as fun a player as there is to watch in baseball,” team president Jed Hoyer said. “And I think he’s made it clear he’d love to stay here. I’m always reluctant to talk about negotiations and where things are, but suffice it to say, Javy’s sensational, and I think he also has had a huge impact on the city of Chicago and the fan base. Every day you come to the ballpark and watch him play is a great day.”

Does that mean $200 million fun? $230 million sensational? Five years great? Six?

Báez also has publicly shared a lot of soul searching coming off a disappointing 2020 hitting performance that has been alternately said to have been impacted by lack of fans and lack of in-game video access — but that probably was more logically a product of the short season for a player who often has rebounded from slow starts in the second half.

“I was just distracted,” he said Monday, trying to clarify comments he made last month about being “mentally” pulled away from his focus on baseball in recent seasons. “I talked about this, too, with Jed.”

Pulled in different directions, sensing those around him — fans as well as those closer to his personal life — started viewing him as a celebrity beyond his baseball status led to a less intense focus on his game in recent years, he said.

He also said he sensed it at a team level following the rare-air success so early in so many Cubs core players’ careers. And the strange, short season of uprooted routines and struggles only made it worse.

“It was overwhelming for sure,” he said.

Left unsaid was the fact that his MVP runner-up finish in 2018 came during this period of distraction and being overwhelmed. So did a 2019 season that was on similar pace until a broken thumb sidelined him the final month.

So he should have been even better?

“For sure,” he said.

What’s for sure now, he added, is that he’s ready to flush what he believes is the aberration of a 2020 season and is all in for 2021 and a renewed level of focus, if not improvement, on his game.

Not that he won’t still be considered a celebrity player pulled in different directions by excited fans or demanding media.

“I will deal with it as long as everybody sees me as a baseball player and not as anybody else,” he said. “I understand Mike Trout is dealing with it, Mookie Betts, [Fernando] Tatis with his contract — they’re huge, but as baseball players, not as a rapper, not as a model.

"I just want to be a baseball player and that’s it.”

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