Ahead of the MLB trade deadline, an intriguing development with Cubs infielder Javier Baez developed.
Here’s what Baez said during an interview on Tuesday:
“If I go to the free agency, I would like to play with Francisco Lindor. I loved playing with him in the World (Baseball) Classic. It is the only option I would take to play second base if it is to play with him, otherwise I stay playing at shortstop.”
And now, Baez will get his wish — just a bit early.
There is a lot to dissect here.
First, it’s fair to believe that if Baez was willing to play second base next to Lindor in 2022 and beyond that he’ll be happy playing second base next to Lindor (when he returns) in 2021.
Second, will the Mets have interest in extending Baez?
Let’s look at the short-term situation first…
Before Baez’s comments, any potential trade to the Mets might not have worked — not with Lindor expected back in mid-to-late August and with Baez not having played second base since 2018.
All of Baez’s starts this season have come at shortstop, and he will be a perfect fit there filling in until Lindor’s return, at which point he can shift to second base as the Mets form the most dynamic double play duo in the game.
For New York, the cost for Baez — OF prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong — hurt. But it wasn’t out of line with what rental players have been bringing back via trade over the last few days.
Now, should the Mets be concerned about Baez’s offense?
A career .262/.302/.474 hitter whose bat packs a punch, Baez has struggled this season when it comes to making contact — he leads the majors with 131 strikeouts and has slashed .248/.292/.484.
Still, he has hit 22 homers and will give the Mets another dangerous bat in a lineup that has remained hot and cold despite breaking out a bit since the All-Star break.
What about Baez for 2022 and beyond?
Cohen is open to exceeding the luxury tax threshold, but shelling out a big deal to Baez — whether it’s an extension after a trade or signing him in free agency — might not be the best idea.
The Mets’ biggest needs are in the outfield (where Michael Conforto is set to become a free agent) and in the starting rotation (with Marcus Stroman and Noah Syndergaard perhaps gone via free agency after the season).
Inking Baez to a big deal would likely impact what the Mets do elsewhere on the roster, and his positional fit and up-and-down offensive production makes him a less than ideal long-term piece for the Mets as they’re presently constructed.
There’s also the fact that many of the Mets’ most heralded prospects are infielders.
Brett Baty, who seems likely to stick at third base, recently reached Double-A Binghamton.
Mark Vientos, who is an option at third base, first base, and perhaps corner outfield, is also in Binghamton.
Shortstop Ronny Mauricio, currently with High-A Brooklyn, could possibly slide to third base or second base once he reaches the majors.
And any of Baty, Vientos, or Mauricio could be the fourth piece of a Mets infield that features Lindor, McNeil, and Alonso.
The verdict here is that while Baez might not be a great long-term fit for the Mets, he sure will look nice on the infield down the stretch in 2021 as New York looks to hold off the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves to win its first NL East title since 2015.
But if Baez is electric in Queens and starts to eliminate some of the swing-and-miss from his game, pairing him with Lindor long-term will be a tantalizing option.