Worthy of a three-year deal? Why Pedro Báez might end up leaving Dodgers

Jorge Castillo
·3 min read
Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Pedro Baez throws against the Atlanta Braves.
Dodgers relief pitcher Pedro Báez is hoping to land a three-year contract from the team this off-season. (Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)

The latest in an occasional series of stories looking at the status of Dodgers free agents heading into the 2021 season.

PEDRO BÁEZ

CASE FOR DODGERS KEEPING HIM: Finding reliable bullpen arms is always a challenge, and Báez has been one of the most consistently effective relievers in baseball since breaking into the majors in 2014.

CASE AGAINST: The Dodgers could find a younger and cheaper replacement. Báez will be 33 in March and wants a multiyear contract.

BEST OTHER FITS: Red Sox, Phillies, Rangers, Blue Jays.

Rarely is a reliever, outside of closers, a lightning rod for a fan base. Báez is an exception.

He’s been loudly booed by Dodgers fans. He’s been mocked for his slow pace — one of his two nicknames on Baseball Reference is “The Human Rain Delay." He’s stumbled in high-leverage spots in the postseason. But there’s also this: Báez has inarguably been one of the most reliable relievers in the majors for six years. Now he’s a free agent and losing him would be a blow for the Dodgers.

Báez is seeking a three-year contract. Ten teams have expressed interest, including the Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. Whether one of them is willing to go beyond one or two years remains to be seen.

A converted third baseman, Báez broke into the big leagues in 2014 and cemented himself in the Dodgers’ bullpen. His 3.03 career ERA is tied for 13th in the majors with Blake Treinen, another Dodgers free agent, over the span. He led the Dodgers in appearances in 2017 and 2019, and was second in 2016. He’s been on the injured list with an arm injury one time.

Manager Dave Roberts — despite criticism — didn’t deviate from giving Báez the ball in important situations. In 2017, Roberts came to Báez’s defense, calling Dodgers fans “ridiculous” for booing the Dominican right-hander. Báez finished the season with a 2.95 ERA, but walked 4.1 batters per nine innings, posted a career-worst 1.328 WHIP and didn’t make the Dodgers’ postseason roster.

The Dodgers offered Báez a two-year contract last winter, according to a person with knowledge of the situation not authorized to speak publicly, that would’ve kept him under team control through the 2022 season. Báez wanted a three-year deal and declined the offer, confident he could get a better contract on the free-agent market.

This season, however, became a challenge. Báez reported late to summer camp in July because he was exposed to people with the coronavirus twice, though he never tested positive. A month later, he was sidelined because of a groin injury that had bothered him for weeks. He finished the regular season strong to reestablish himself in the bullpen’s hierarchy.

But Báez’s struggles with inherited runners took center stage when he gave up a go-ahead, three-run home run to Brandon Lowe in Game 4 of the World Series. To that point, Báez had allowed all six inherited runners to score over the previous two postseasons. After the inning ended, Roberts told Báez his night was over. Roberts changed his mind when the Dodgers reclaimed the lead and Báez went out for the seventh. He promptly gave up a tying home run to Kevin Kermaier.

Báez then logged two-thirds of a scoreless inning in the Dodgers’ championship-clinching Game 6. It might have been the final appearance in his Dodgers career, one simultaneously filled with peaks and valleys, relentless scrutiny and uncommon consistency.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.