Detroit Tigers' most hated player enters "do or die" season

Javier Baez was brought into Detroit to be their established star to build around. Some say he has turned into a liability. Some say give him more time.

Detroit Tigers Javier Baez playing shortstop in a game between the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers
Detroit Tigers Javier Baez playing shortstop in a game between the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers / Gregory Shamus/GettyImages

It's time to take a trip back in time. The 2021 MLB offseason was loaded. With stars like Carlos Correa, Freddie Freeman, Marcus Semien, Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Kyle Schwarber, Nick Castellanos, and more, the Detroit Tigers were put in a great spot to find a star that would be able to teach the youngsters while producing at a high level. The Tigers chose former Chicago Cubs and New York Mets shortstop Javier Baez.

Baez was a key piece of the Chicago Cubs' historic 2016 World Series Championship team. Known as "El Mago" or "The Magician," Baez stunned Chicago with his stellar defense, flashy necklaces, big swing, and good power. The city fell in love with the entire team, and Baez was certainly a reason for that success. As we know now, that team did not become a dynasty, with key pieces like Baez, Kyle Schwarber, Anthony Rizzo, and Kris Bryant all departing the team.

Baez started his next chapter with the New York Mets, where he and Francisco Lindor were teaming up to create one of the most exciting middle infields in the MLB. Baez was traded to the Mets in a deal that sent highly touted prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong back to the Northside of Chicago. After struggling in Chicago before the trade in 2021, the slugger found his stride in Queens, slashing .299/.371/.515 in 47 games with the Mets. This was a small sample size, but enough for him to land a contract in the offseason.

The Detroit Tigers jumped on Baez late in the offseason, signing the shortstop to a six-year $140 million deal. Since then, all has gone sour. In two seasons with Detroit, Baez has slashed a measly .230/.273/.361. Baez has also made a career of swinging at pitches that even Angel Hernandez would call a ball. He has always struck out at an impressively high rate and this has continued in Detroit. Can we all say train wreck together? $23 million per year and not even getting on base at a .300 clip. Woah! Yikes! I'm not sure the correct word to describe that situation.

Baez's defense faltered as well as he posted a .954 and a .962 fielding percentage in 2022 and 2023 respectively. These have been the lowest marks of his career among games played at shortstop. Baez was third among shortstops in errors in the MLB in 2023 with 19 despite not being in the top five in games played at shortstop.

Detroit Tigers Javier Baez has not been the leader the team thought they signed.

The worst part of it all might be the fact that Baez appeared to have given up at one point last year. Manager AJ Hinch had no choice but to bench Javy last season after losing track of the number of outs in Toronto. The team had enough, and the fans did too, regularly booing Baez at home games. Baez had an opt-out (which he would have been crazy to utilize) after this past season, and fans were rooting for an opt-out. This could have opened up a lot of salary room for the Tigers to make a move to replace the disastrous Baez, but he chose to stay in Detroit.

The relationship with Baez has reached a breaking point in Detroit, and if Baez doesn't figure out how to tap into his old form, the entire city may turn on him and create a tough environment for Baez for the next three years.