MESA, Ariz. — Javier Baez has emerged as one of the most dominant forces in the National League during the last three seasons, and the dazzling shortstop is adamant about helping set a tone to prevent more lapses that led to the Cubs’ disappointing 2019 season and Joe Maddon’s departure.
Baez admitted Sunday he was part of a group that took advantage of individual pregame work that led to sluggish starts and uncharacteristic errors that were common in the 2019 season.
And after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2014, Baez has completely bought into President Theo Epstein’s mission for the players to work together before each game.
“I’d get to the (stadium) and instead of going outside and hitting batting practice, I would do everything inside, which is not the same,” Baez said. “Once I’d go out to the field before the game, I felt I wasn’t ready. I felt like I was getting loose during the first four innings.
“I promise you guys this year it’s going to be like that.”
The Cubs committed 117 errors in 2019, the second highest in the league. And Epstein is out to change his team’s preparation.
Maddon’s method of letting players take optional batting practice — often indoors — initially was welcomed by players who preferred to preserve their energy for games. New manager David Ross plans to conduct live batting practice with umpires and without a cage to increase the intensity.
“We had a lot of optional things, not mandatory,” Baez said. “And everybody kind of sat back on that — including me. I wasn’t really going out there and preparing (before) the game. I was getting ready during the game, which is not good.
“This year, before the games, we got to be out there as a team — stretch as a team and be together as a team so we can play together.”
Baez said there are enough leaders to police teammates.
“You can lose the game in the first inning,” Baez said. “When you’re not ready and the other team scores by something simple, I feel like it’s because of that.
“We weren’t ready. We weren’t ready to throw the first pitch because nobody was loose. We’re going to make sure everybody is outside, everybody is doing their routine and getting ready for the game.”
Baez, who has yet to take live batting practice, said his left hand feels fine after missing the final four weeks of the 2019 season with a hairline fracture. He still managed to hit 29 home runs and 85 RBIs last season.
“We haven’t been where we want to be,” Baez said. “We’ve been up and down, more down than up. We got to keep that level in-between. We got to fight, compete and beat those (teams) that are getting better.”
He remains hopeful about his future with the Cubs, who control his rights as an arbitration-eligible player through 2021.
“If (an extension) happens, I’ll be grateful,” said Baez, who will earn $10 million this season. “I want to be here my whole career. If not, I got to be focused on baseball. I got to see the business side.”
Baez said negotiations, based on chats with his agency, have been “up and down.”
“It’s business. It’s very tough. I’ll let them work it out. If it works, great. If not, we got another year.”
Baez prefers the Cubs keep their core, including Kris Bryant, who has been the center of trade speculation with two years to go before free agency.
“Everyone is close to the same age,” Baez said. “It’s the business side, and obviously not every year we’re going to have the same players.”
Baez has all but given up on winning an NL Gold Glove award, but seems even more motivated for this Cubs season.
“I can’t wait,” he said. “I don’t like talking much. But I let my talents show up.
“I want to be one of the top three players out there. I’m working for that. Hopefully at the end of the season you can see it.”
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