Chicago Tribune (Sunday)

What will Cubs shell out for Baez?

Sullivan: How will Fernando Tatis Jr.’s $340M contract affect negotiatio­ns with Javier Baez?

- Paul Sullivan

That loud groan you heard Wednesday night came from Chicago Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts after hearing the San Diego Padres signed Fernando Tatis Jr. to a 14-year, $340 million deal.

If Tatis is worth $340 million based on 143 career games, what will the Cubs have to shell out to keep impending free agent Javier Baez, arguably a better shortstop than Tatis and already a proven gate attraction in Chicago?

Meanwhile, the chuckling you heard after the Tatis signing was courtesy of White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, whose general manager, Rick Hahn, signed another young star, Eloy Jimenez, to a six-year, $43 million deal in 2019 with options that could make the payout $78 million through 2026.

What seemed a significan­t risk for a player with no major-league experience could turn out to be the best of a series of teamfriend­ly deals the Sox have made during the Hahn era.

Of course, Hahn also is the one who traded Tatis to the Padres for starter James Shields in June 2016 when Tatis was a 17-yearold prospect. The Sox assumed $31 million of Shields’ $75 million contract, then watched him go 16-35 with a 5.31 ERA over parts of three seasons. It’s regarded as one of the most one-sided deals in Sox history.

Everything is a risk, whether you’re trading for a veteran starter near the end of his career or

committing that kind of money to athletes who have yet to show they can remain productive and healthy for years to come.

Tatis’ contract is the 15th in majorleagu­e history to be worth $240 million or more, and several of those deals — including the ones for Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and Robinson Cano — eventually became albatrosse­s for the teams that signed them.

Perhaps the Tatis deal will be considered a bargain by 2035, when he’ll be 36 and presumably on his way to the Hall of Fame. Either way, the bar has been raised, and now we’ll see whether Baez can cash in.

The popular Cubs shortstop likely has the best chance of the team’s “Big 3” free agents to ink an extension, ahead of Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant. The Cubs were in the midst of talks with Baez in March during spring training when the COVID-19 pandemic halted the season and put everything on hold.

Since then Ricketts has spoken of “biblical losses” suffered by baseball owners because of the pandemic. And if there was any doubt he’s worried about his own bottom line, it was answered by the Cubs’ approach to the 2021 season.

President Jed Hoyer shed Yu Darvish’s big contract in December, and made only incrementa­l free-agent signings late in the winter, including one-year deals for Joc Pederson ($7 million) and Jake Arrieta ($6 million), his two biggest expenditur­es.

“Obviously the losses that were incurred last year are well publicized,” Hoyer said Tuesday before the start of camp.

Actually, no. We only can take the Cubs’ word for it because we don’t have access to the books. But we can assume the Ricketts family’s investment­s in Wrigleyvil­le, combined with the loss of in-stadium revenue streams, were significan­t.

On the other hand, Padres Chairman Peter Seidler, who took control of the team in November, has done nothing but spend in pursuit of the team’s first championsh­ip. The acquisitio­ns of Darvish and Tampa Bay Rays ace Blake Snell, along with the free-agent signing of Ha-Seong Kim, added $33 million to the payroll when subtractin­g the salaries of departing players.

The Padres 2021 payroll is estimated at $156.6 million according to spotrac, while the Cubs have dropped to 11th in the majors at $139.4 million after ranking third in 2019, the last full season, at $197.7 million.

What’s done is done, and there’s no need to rehash the Cubs’ reluctance to spend in 2021.

Whether they’re reluctant to commit to Baez, Bryant and Rizzo beyond this season is the storyline that keeps giving until there’s actual movement one way or another. While Hoyer said he plans to talk turkey with them this spring, he suggested signing all three probably is wishful thinking.

“Rightfully Cubs Nation sort of owes that group a debt of gratitude, and they’re always going to be legends for the Cubs,” he said. “We’ve said all along very clearly we’d like to keep some of these players. That’d be great. But it’s unrealisti­c to keep all of the players that were a significan­t part of 2016.

“That’s just the reality. … Financiall­y it’s impossible for any team to continue with that group indefinite­ly.”

Rizzo figures to be the easiest to sign. He already is 31 and shouldn’t be seeking a supersized, long-term deal. He also has been like an adopted son to Hoyer and former team President Theo Epstein. Acquiring Rizzo from the Padres was the first big move of Epstein’s rebuild.

Similarly, Hoyer acquired Rizzo from the Boston Red Sox when he became the Padres GM after the 2009 season. During Rizzo’s first spring with the Cubs in 2012, one national writer referred to him as Hoyer’s “lucky rabbit’s foot.”

Called up from Triple-A Iowa in June 2012 with more hype than any Cubs prospect since Kerry Wood, Rizzo brashly declared: “I’m here to stay.” One year later he signed a team-friendly, seven-year, $41 million deal that included two options, making it worth $68 million. That’s chump change to Tatis.

Despite watching many of his peers sign huge deals over the last nine years, Rizzo didn’t complain about the unfairness of his contract, and Hoyer and co-owner Laura Ricketts figure to make sure he’s a Cub the rest of his career. No one discards a lucky rabbit’s foot.

That probably leaves Hoyer to choose between Baez and Bryant for the larger financial commitment. Both are coming off subpar seasons in 2020 — as is Rizzo — but that won’t affect them as free agents if they return to form in 2021, as Hoyer expects.

Tatis’ crazy contract only makes things more interestin­g.

Baseball is a cold, cutthroat business, so this could turn into a high-stakes game of “duck, duck, goose.” Whichever one agrees to a deal in spring becomes the face of the franchise for the next decade, and the other becomes trade bait until the July 31 deadline.

Which one gets the rose?

Stay tuned.

 ?? ARMANDO L. SANCHEZ/CHICAGO TRIBUNE ?? Cubs shortstop Javier Baez catches a ball during the ninth inning of a game against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field.
ARMANDO L. SANCHEZ/CHICAGO TRIBUNE Cubs shortstop Javier Baez catches a ball during the ninth inning of a game against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field.
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