Mets Finally Strike, Landing Javier Báez and Trevor Williams

The Mets remained on the sidelines during the frenzy of deals that went down on Thursday and early Friday, but they finally made a big move about an hour before the 4 pm ET trade deadline. In a deal with the Cubs, they acquired infielder Javier Báez, righty Trevor Williams, and cash considerations in exchange for center fielder Pete Crow-Armstrong, the team’s first-round pick in the 2020 amateur draft.

The move addresses a pair of particularly acute needs for the Mets, who placed shortstop Francisco Lindor and ace Jacob deGrom on the Injured List on back-to-back days just after the All-Star break. Lindor left the team’s first game of the second half with a strained oblique, and is now two weeks into a three-to-five-week recovery period, having just returned to baseball activities as of Friday. Báez, a pending free agent, can handle shortstop duties until he gets back, then slide over to second base to form a double play combination that will be must-see TV.

Meanwhile, after deGrom skipped the All-Star Game, he landed on the IL due to a bout of forearm tightness, further exposing the team’s already-depleted rotation. In the 10 games the Mets have played since he went down, they’ve started a pitcher who left his outing and landed on the 60-day IL with a hamstring strain (Robert Stock), a reliever who was the first of six pitchers in an all-bullpen doubleheader game (Aaron Loup), and a starter who was designated for assignment for the second and third times this season the day after getting pummeled (Jerad Eickhoff). A couple hours after the deadline, MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo reported that deGrom is dealing with additional inflammation and is being shut down from throwing for two weeks, with a September return now the best-case scenario. Williams is no deGrom, but he can provide some back-end stability over the next month, and he has a year of club control remaining.

The 28-year-old Báez has rebounded from a dreadful 2020 campaign, during which he hit for just a 57 wRC+ and netted zero WAR; he was vocal about the loss of in-game video to help him make adjustments. His .248/.292/.484 line this year isn’t overly impressive, but he’s shaken off a dreadful June (.157/.231/.373) with a red-hot July (.324/.355/.535), lifting his wRC+ back to 105.

Báez deals in extremes, as he’s one of the game’s most exciting and watchable players, but also one of its most maddening, and certainly comes with his warts, as he strikes out a ton and rarely walks. His 36.3% rate is the highest among batting title qualifiers in either league, not to mention his highest mark since his 2014 rookie season, while his 4.2% walk rate is the seventh-lowest among all qualifiers, and his on-base percentage tied for the 11th-lowest. As Kevin Goldstein noted back in April, during the divisional play era only four players have ranked among the majors’ eight worst in both strikeout and walk rates, with Báez the second repeat customer:

Bottom Eight Seasons in Both BB% and K%
Year Player BB Rank K Rank AVG OBP SLG wRC+ BB% K% K/BB
2021 Javier Báez 7th 1st .248 .292 .484 105 4.2% 36.3% 8.7
2020 Javier Báez 2nd 8th .203 .238 .360 57 3.0% 31.9% 10.7
2011 Miguel Olivo 6th 4th .224 .253 .388 75 3.9% 27.6% 7.0
1989 Cory Snyder 8th 3rd .215 .251 .360 65 4.4% 25.9% 5.8
1986 Juan Samuel 7th 8th .266 .302 .448 100 2.9% 26.0% 5.5
1984 Juan Samuel 5th 4th .272 .307 .442 108 3.1% 28.0% 6.0
Rank is among batting title qualifiers in all MLB.

Nonetheless, Báez is hitting the ball harder than at any time during the Statcast era, with a 13.0% barrel rate (84th percentile) and 46.9% hard-hit rate (81st percentile), and he brings to the Mets a much-needed power-speed combination. His 22 homers is more than any Met besides Pete Alonso (25), while his 13 steals (in 16 attempts) is higher than any Met, period (Lindor and Jonathan Villar share the team lead with eight).

Báez also brings a good glove and welcome defensive versatility. His metrics this year at shortstop are mixed (-0.9 UZR, -1 OAA, 4 DRS) but he’s just two seasons removed from a monster year there (10.0 UZR, 31 DRS, 27 OAA). He was consistently above-average at second base, where he played part-time in 2016 and regularly in ’17 and ’18 before trading positions with Addison Russell, and he was good at third base, where he played intermittently from 2015-19, as well.

For what it’s worth, earlier this week Báez publicly embraced the possibility of joining the Mets and playing opposite Lindor — with whom he paired for Puerto Rico in the 2017 World Baseball Classic — though that hypothetical concerned his upcoming free agency:

The versatility that Báez brings gives manager Luis Rojas multiple options once Lindor returns. If he’s slotted at second base, that frees up Jeff McNeil (who himself has heated up since returning from a five-week absence due to a hamstring strain, hitting .308/.374/.404 since June 21) to fill in at either outfield corner, where Dominic Smith (.251/.321/.393, 99 wRC+) and Michael Conforto (.203/.331/.335, 93 wRC+) have both underperformed to the point that their positions made my Replacement Level Killers lists. Smith is at least on the upswing, having posted a 117 wRC+ with nine of his 11 home runs since June 1, but Conforto has hit for just an 84 wRC+ since returning from a right hamstring strain on June 23. Notably, the lefty-swinging Conforto has just a 50 wRC+ in 82 PA against lefties this year, and a 90 wRC+ in 193 PA against them since 2019, while the lefty-swinging McNeil has a 104 wRC+ in 50 PA against them this year, and a 124 mark in 156 PA against them since ’19. Additionally, with Báez, McNeil, Villar, and Luis Guillorme all on the roster, the Mets have no shortage of options to replace the iron-gloved J.D. Davis at third base as well.

As for Williams, the 29-year-old righty is still trying to recover the form that helped him pitch to a 3.56 ERA and 3.94 FIP for the Pirates in 2017-18. Released by the team last November after posting a 6.18 ERA and 6.30 FIP in the shortened season, he’s cleaned that up somewhat, posting a 5.06 ERA, 4.52 FIP, and 4.33 xERA. He’s striking out a career-high 23.1% of all hitters, nearly five percentage points higher than his previous career mark, and he’s also getting grounders on 46.6% of his balls in play, his highest mark since 2018.

In an ideal world — or at least one that accounts for the reality that Noah Syndergaard won’t have time to stretch out to starter length after suffering a setback in his return from Tommy John surgery — a healthy Mets rotation would include deGrom, Taijuan Walker, Marcus Stroman, Carlos Carrasco, and probably fast-starting rookie Tylor Megill, bumping the recently-acquired Rich Hill and Williams to the bullpen. Carrasco is about to make his long-awaited regular season debut on Friday night, having battled a recurrent right hamstring injury since mid-March, and deGrom should hopefully be back in September. Beyond that, worrying about who gets moved out of the rotation is counting chickens before they’ve hatched. Having recently placed both Stock and David Peterson, who broke his right pinky toe earlier this month, on the 60-day IL, and with Joey Lucchesi, Jordan Yamamoto, and Thomas Szapucki all out for the year with injuries as well, the Mets need pitching depth, and Williams helps to provide it along with the hope that a change of scenery could restore a bit more of his luster.

The cost for acquiring this pair was not insignificant, but it’s nothing the Mets can’t weather. The 19-year-old Crow-Armstrong was the 19th pick of the 2020 draft out of Los Angeles’ Harvard-Westlake High School, and was sixth on the Mets’ prospect list, with a 45 FV. He had only just begun his professional career, playing six games for the team’s A-level Port St. Lucie affiliate before tearing his labrum and damaging articular cartilage in his right (non-throwing shoulder), requiring season-ending surgery. Both his hit tool and his power grade out as average, not plus, but he’s a 60-grade runner and a 70+-grade defender. As Kevin Goldstein summarized, “He’s a potential impact defender with enough bat to play every day and hit seventh, or maybe second on a bad team.”

The trade of Crow-Armstrong means that the Mets have now dealt all but two of their six first-round picks from 2016-20; Anthony Kay (2016) was traded to Toronto in the July 2019 Stroman deal, while Justin Dunn (2016) and Jarred Kelenic (2018) were both traded to Seattle in the December 2018 Robinson CanóEdwin Díaz deal. That leaves 2017 pick Peterson and ’19 pick Brett Baty as the remaining representatives from that group, though with the assumption that the team soon comes to terms with this year’s top pick, Kumar Rocker, the Mets organization ranks 13th on THE BOARD in future value.

In the days leading up to the deadline, the Mets were linked to numerous other players who ended up being dealt, including Kris Bryant, José Berríos, Tyler Anderson, and Max Scherzer (who ruled them out), as well as many who weren’t, such as Byron Buxton, Josh Donaldson, and Trevor Story. Oh Thursday night, as prospects changed hands all over the majors, a strong hint of their frustration made its way to social media:

Ultimately, the Mets came away from the past eight days with an exciting but flawed rent-a-player in Báez and two rotation options in Williams and Hill, the latter of whom is a pending free agent. Arguably, they should have bitten the bullet and been more willing to move more prospects to land another bat or a bigger arm — particularly given what we now know about deGrom — but their deal with the Cubs did address multiple needs, and they have a wealth of talent nearing return from the IL. Even with the Braves completely overhauling their outfield and the Phillies doing… something… the Mets remain the team to beat in the NL East, and they’re in better shape after Friday’s deadline than they were before it.





Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

My experience with Mets fans and their relationship with their team, I cannot wait to see how they react to Baez. He is not for the faint of heart.

MisterMet
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MisterMet

This is a good point, but, of course, Mets fans are definitely not faint of heart.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

No but there is only so many ups and downs one can take and the Mets have had a lot of it!

dl80
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dl80

The ghosts of Keith Hernández and John Olerud makes them hate the high-K, low-BB player that Baez is the Platonic ideal of.

Dmjn53
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Dmjn53

I’m trying to go into it with an open mind, but I have a personal distaste from low OBP players and particularly ones that swing at everything.

I hope he kills it for the next 2 (hopefully 3) months, but I can’t think of a skillset I’d rather invest less in on a long term deal than his