By Jeff O'Brien

The Detroit Tigers determined they needed a good shortstop and it so happened that several were on the free-agent market this winter. Some still are, in fact.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 19: Javier Baez #23 of the New York Mets reacts after striking out during the sixth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citi Field on September 19, 2021 in the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

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But it didn’t take the Tigers and Javier Báez long to get together. He signed a six-year contract in November, just before the start of the 99-day lockout.

“I was really excited to start a new chapter and I didn’t know what was going to happen after, so I took the smart decision,” Báez said. “Hopefully (the other shortstops) get it done and they don’t miss any playing time.”

The two-time National League All-Star participated in his first organized workout for Detroit on Monday.

“It feels great,” he said. “I felt this way when I got traded and it went really well for me in New York. So I’m ready for a new chapter and to see how far we can go.”

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN – SEPTEMBER 26: Javier Baez #23 of the New York Mets doubles in two runs to left field in the fourth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field on September 26, 2021 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)

Báez’s $140 million contract is the largest the Tigers have awarded since Miguel Cabrera’s $248 million contract eight years ago.

“We wanted an elite shortstop and we got one that wanted to be here,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “It was important that Javy bought into what we were doing. He’s been a winning player. Certainly he’s had his peaks and valleys like all players have, but we think his winning mentality is going to add to this group and carry us to the next level.”

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Báez finished second in NL MVP voting in 2018, and he has averaged 31 home runs over the last three full seasons.

“We’re going to follow him, know what I mean? He’ll say ‘You go,’ and we’re gonna go,” Cabrera said. “I’m excited to play next to him and hopefully we can have a great year together.”

The Cubs traded Báez to the Mets at the deadline last summer, and the Mets were committed to Francisco Lindor at shortstop after he returned from an injury. That put Báez, who hit 31 homers and led the NL in strikeouts with 184, on the market at age 29.

ARLINGTON, TX – JULY 5: Manager A.J. Hinch #14 of the Detroit Tigers looks on from the dugout before playing the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Field on July 5, 2021 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

“The shortstop defense, he’ll rank pretty high on outs-above-average,” Hinch said. “Yes, he’s made a few errors, but he’s as dynamic a player as you can find in the league. When we get him up and running and we get him in our culture, and we listen to his expertise, I think he can be a difference-maker.”

Báez doesn’t necessarily expect to hit a lot of home runs in Detroit.

“A lot of people say the field in Detroit is big, but I take it as you’ve got more space to hit the ball,” he said. “The key is to hit the ball where nobody is, and you’ve got more room there. Homers are going to come and if you hit a lot of homers, fine. But you just want to hit the ball hard.”

NOTES: The Tigers had their physicals Monday morning and went right to work. “Most of the time we’d have physicals the day before (the first workout),” Hinch said. “We have to face our reality of having 24 days to get ready.” … The Tigers will start their three-week exhibition schedule on Friday and will open the regular season on April 8 in Detroit against the Chicago White Sox.

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