Friday, July 30, 2021

Some Quick Thoughts on the Baez Trade

Ken Rosenthal is reporting on Twitter that the New York Mets have made a deal with the Chicago Cubs for SS Javier Báez and RH starter Trevor Williams. We're still waiting to hear about who the Mets are giving up. Also on Twitter, Bob Nightengale is reporting that the Mets are sending the Cubs our #5 ranked prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong. Crow-Armstrong made a big impression in camp this year but injured his shoulder only 6 games into the season with Low-A St. Lucie. The injury required shoulder surgery and put the 19-year-old out for the season.

We're still waiting for full confirmation on this trade, including if the Mets gave up more than Pete Crow-Armstrong in the deal. It stings a little to lose PCA, even if he is quite some distance away from the majors. But when you look at the prices paid for some of these deadline deals this year, it's not unreasonable.

There's no doubt that Báez's power and affinity for driving in runs will help the club. As with any deadline deal, so much hinges on whether he gets hot over the last couple of months. But the disappointing series just concluded against the Braves brought up continuing questions about the Mets' season-long inability to sustain their offense. Frankly, the Mets were lucky to win the 2 games they did in that series, with a grand total of 3 runs scored in those 2 wins.

The Mets were 35-25 in mid-June, 10 games over .500. Since then, they've gone 19-22. It was beginning to be fairly obvious that their hold on the NL East was precarious, particularly since the Phillies were actively trying to improve their club.

I fervently believe that the club has to be really disciplined over the next several years as they look to build the sort of deep farm system that has allowed teams like the Dodgers and Padres to stock their own team and swing some big deals. I don't like trading a prospect like Pete Crow-Armstrong for a rental. But, realistically, I don't think the Mets wanted to send their fans and their players the sort of negative signal that not making a move or only making low-impact moves would have sent.

So, while I don't love the move, I understand it. After more than 50 years of being a baseball fan and a Mets fan, I've learned that it's silly to believe that you're going to be 100% in favor of every move your team makes. What I hope for, now that the Wilpon era is over, is that even the moves that I don't love make logical sense. The Mets aren't just getting a very productive offensive player and a good defender in Báez. They're also getting some starting pitching depth in Williams. He's not great, but he'll give them a better chance to win than running out Jerad Eickhoff again. Nothing against Eickhoff, who was trying his best to rekindle his MLB career, but it wasn't happening with him.

This trade is reportedly pending physicals. I guess it's at least possible that the Cubs look at Crow-Armstrong's shoulder and decide to pass. Still, that seems unlikely, given that the Cubs surely did some homework before agreeing to a deal. Luis Guillorme and Jonathan Villar have done an excellent job holding the fort while Francisco Lindor's oblique heals, but Báez is a big upgrade at SS both offensively and defensively. The Mets will have a crowded infield when Lindor returns, but having too many good options is vastly preferable to not enough. That will sort itself out.

As to whether the Mets should try to sign Javy Báez long-term, that's trickier. Báez has a lifetime .303 OBP. That's a big negative, even with the power, speed, and defense. Even worse, in 2020 and 2021, his OBP dropped to .271 over 596 PA. He's struck out 206 times and walked only 22 times over that stretch. When Báez is hitting well, that can be overlooked, but when he goes through a rough stretch, that's going to be hard to watch.

It's unlikely that any team can transform Báez into a guy that chases pitches out of the strike zone less often.  It's why, despite Báez's prodigious power, his lifetime OPS+ is only 103 — barely above league-average. I like OPS+ as a stat because I believe it gives a fairly well-rounded look at a player's offensive productivity. For better or worse, he is likely to continue to be an overaggressive hitter who walks infrequently and strikes out way too often.

My thinking is that this type of hitter is much more valuable playing a premium defensive position like SS. I'm not even sure that Báez would sign here long-term as a second baseman. Even if he did, unless he transformed into at least a moderately more patient hitter, I'm not at all convinced that he'd be the best use of monetary resources, even with the power and excellent defense. Michael Conforto, Marcus Stroman, and Noah Syndergaard are all free agents at the end of the season who will need to be re-signed or replaced. Even if the Mets pass on signing any of the three, they'll have to hit the free-agent market for replacements. That's going to require a big chunk of change.

I wouldn't be categorically opposed to the Mets keeping Javy Báez. It would depend on the price tag and how whatever other moves they have to make play out. In any case, that's a worry for the offseason. Given that a new collective bargaining agreement has to happen before next season, 2021 baseball seems a long way off. In the meantime, I'm going to root like hell for Báez to help the Mets get back to the postseason after half a decade of coming up short.

Please be well and take care.

 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos.

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