Here's a bad contract swap that makes sense for the Detroit Tigers
The first year of Javier Baez's six-year, $140 million contract with the Detroit Tigers did not go particularly well. He had his worst season if you don't count 2020. He had just a 90 wRC+ and a 2.0 fWAR. His erratic throwing arm led to 26 errors. It was a rough go of it for the former All-Star.
Because of this, many Tigers fans already want to move on from Baez. They don't see him getting any better because of his approach at the plate and aforementioned erratic throwing arm. Someone would be willing to take on the contract, right?
Well, not so fast. With how bad he was in 2022, I don't know what team would want to take him on. Tigers fans best bet of is that he pops off in 2023 and opts out of the deal. Or is it?
Perhaps if we can find a team that is willing to swap one bad contract for another, we can find a way to move on from Baez. I think I know just the team and player.
Enter DJ LeMahieu of the New York Yankees. The 34-year-old is in the midst of a six-year, $90 million signed back in 2020. He's a second baseman by trade, but he's played all over the infield for the Yanks—everywhere except shortstop.
Offensively, he's still solid despite the fact that he's getting up there in age. Last season, he slashed .261/.357/.377 with a 116 wRC+ and a 3.0 fWAR, his highest since 2019. His hitting profile lines up with what Scott Harris likes as well, with a career walk rate of 8.2% and a strikeout rate of just 14.5%. Last year, he walked almost as much as he struck out.
He's always been a contact-first kind of hitter. He doesn't strike out, doesn't swing and miss, and doesn't chase very often. He puts the ball in play.
He also played high school ball at Brother Rice High School in Bloomfield Hills, MI, so it would be a homecoming of sorts for him. He was actually drafted by the Tigers in the 41st round in 2007, but didn't sign and went to LSU instead.
LeMahieu could play third base for the Tigers, or he could play some first in the event Spencer Torkelson struggles again. He can also play some second. He offers a lot of flexibility while still having a solid bat.
The question for the Tigers then becomes who plays shortstop? I don't think a lot of fans think about this when they say they want to trade Baez. There's a reason the Tigers signed him in the first place. They don't have anybody in their farm system that can be long term option. Guys like Cristian Santana and Peytom Graham are at least a couple of years away. You can't really rely on Ryan Kreidler, or god forbid Zack Short.
The Tigers would probably have to sign someone like Elvis Andrus to play shortstop for them in 2023 at that point. Is he that much of an upgrade over Baez, if he is at all?
Then for the Yankees, they have a few young prospects that could be ready to take the reigns at shortstop. Oswaldo Peraza and Oswaldo Cabrera are both very talented, but they could also fill the void left by LeMahieu since they can both play multiple positions in the infield.
Then there's top prospect Anthony Volpe, who could very well be the frontrunner to be the Bronx Bombers' starting shortstop on Opening Day. They also have veteran infielders like Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Gleyber Torres. Getting rid of LeMahieu clears some space, but getting Baez back in return doesn't really fix the problem.
As far as the semantics of this trade, a one-for-one swap of Baez for LeMahieu probably wouldn't cut it. The Tigers would either have to include a prospect in return or take on another contract, say Kiner-Falefa's. IFK could play shortstop for the Tigers in 2023 if they wanted to go that route.
There's a strong segment of Detroit Tigers fans that wants Javier Baez gone. As far as a trade is concerned, this scenario seems like their best bet.