Even with Pete Crow-Armstrong garnering headlines for his amazing catches and a selection to the Futures Game, (most) Cubs fans will always lament losing Javy Báez. If Anthony Rizzo was the heart of the team and Kris Bryant was the brain, Javy was the adrenal glands. He was impulsive and energetic, pulling off moves that made you question what in the hell he was thinking until he’d successfully executed yet another magical slide/tag/hit.
Of many beloved Cubs legends, it’s hard to name any who had the same sort of mutual visceral connection to the fans. Javy was the embodiment of that irrational love for a team that all too often played like it didn’t always love you back, and his exploits were a huge part of that ultimate fulfillment in 2016.
Then, just like that, he was gone, traded to New York in a flurry of moves that stripped away the club’s most recognizable stars almost overnight. Javy was back in Chicago Thursday for the first time since he was moved to the Mets, though it was on the South Side as part of a disappointing Tigers team. The media naturally wanted to get his thoughts on that return, which gave the shortstop a chance to thank Cubs fans for their adoration.
“Tell them I love them,” Báez said prior to the game. “I feel the same way, as they always showed love to me. The Cub fans are incredible fans. Many other players come up to me and ask me how good are the fans in Chicago because they see them from the other side. It’s very special to be a Cub fan. This will always be home for me. I got a tattoo with the Cub logo. Winning for them is something nobody can take from you. It just was very special to be a part of the Cubs organization in the past.”
Along with Crow-Armstrong’s rising star, seeing how Javy and the Tigers have fared this season offers at least mild solace to those who lament his departure. He’s having one of the worst seasons of his career, batting .211 with a 71 wRC+ in 281 plate appearances, a fact that makes the separation that much more palatable. Still, there’s always a question of what if for those who understand that you can’t simply assume he’d be playing like this were he still on the North Side.
“I know we were really close at one point,” Baez reiterated when asked about a potential extension back in spring of 2020. “But everything that happened around the world with the pandemic changed everything for everybody. I am happy and have no judgment about that. Everything happens for a reason. Who knows what would have happened if I would have stayed.”
Alas, what’s done is done and there’s no going back in a time machine to see how an extension would have changed things. Or if the Cubs had added legitimate role players to a core group that has been unnecessarily maligned over the last few years. In a perfect world, Javy and the Tigers will figure things out and make some noise in the future just as the Cubs are reaching the point at which they’re comfortable spending again.
— Detroit Tigers (@tigers) July 8, 2022
In the meantime, we’ll have to settle for the poetic justice of seeing El Mago blast a homer against former Cubs prospect Dylan Cease in a 2-1 Tigers win.