At the trade deadline, the Mets knew they needed to upgrade their offense in a big way in order to stay in first place down the stretch and compete for the postseason. To do so, they’d have to make several moves to change the dynamic of the offense and the bench, much like they did in 2015.
However, the Mets didn’t make several moves. They instead made one splashy move and hoped that would be enough. With Francisco Lindor out with an oblique injury, the Mets traded top prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong for Javier Báez from the Cubs. The idea was to let the 2018 NL MVP runner-up play shortstop for a few weeks, and then slide over to second base when Lindor came back. Overall, the Mets had a disappointing deadline given what they didn’t and could’ve done, but what they did do still had the potential to be very exciting.
And it didn’t take long to get exciting. Báez, never one to shy away from the spotlight, took little time to shine in it for the Mets. In his first game in the orange and blue, “El Mago” blasted a crucial two-run homer into the left field seats in the sixth inning, single-handedly getting the Mets back into that game, which they eventually came back and won thanks to that homer.
It also didn’t take long for Báez to officially become indoctrinated to the Mets by landing on the IL just nine games into his stay here. However, he came back just two weeks later and had a huge final six weeks of the season. In his final 142 PAs, he slashed an impressive .323/.394/.543, which was good for a 157 wRC+. It was a level of offense that Báez hadn’t displayed over an extended period of time since his MVP-caliber season of 2018.
Báez’s entire Mets tenure totaled 186 PAs, and his 146 wRC+ as a Met was the highest of any Mets position player on the season. He accumulated 1.7 fWAR in his two months in Queens, ranking him 5th among all Mets position players for the entire season, despite 10 players seeing more PAs than him.
He provided plus defense at both shortstop and second base, and as he does, seemed to make a play in the field or on the bases several times a week that made you go, “wow.” Most interestingly, the usually-impatient Báez walked at a 7.1% rate with the Mets; a fairly pedestrian number overall, but significantly higher than any walk rate he has drawn in his career. It probably isn’t reflective of a new approach for the free-swinging infielder, but it’s certainly possible the Mets could have gotten in his ear about improving his approach in his brief time here.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t a completely smooth ride with Báez. On August 29, the Mets tromped over the Nats by a score of 9-4, in large part thanks to big hits by Lindor and Kevin Pillar, and a two-run homer by Báez. After all of their hits, they could be seen giving a “thumbs down” gesture to the dugout, a celebration that they had been doing for a little while, but Báez really leaned into it after his home run. After the game, he was asked about it.
“I strike out and get booed. It doesn’t really get to me, but I want to let them know that when we’re successful, we’re going to do the same thing to let them know how it feels.”
“If we win together, then we got to lose together, and the fans are a really big part of it. In my case, they got to be better. I play for the fans, and I love the fans, but if they’re going to do that, they’re just putting more pressure on the team, and that’s not what we want.”
Obviously, this did not go over well and caused an entire 48 hours of discourse throughout not just New York, but the entire sports world. Suddenly, the Mets had once again become the talk of the center of attention for the wrong reasons, and this time it was, ridiculously, because one of their players seemed to be turning on the fans. Things got so bad that Sandy Alderson had to release a statement of his own condemning the actions. Two days later, the lightning rod middle infielder stepped in front of the cameras to explain himself and apologize, and did so, alleging that he was misunderstood. Lindor, Trevor May, and other Mets have also explained that Báez, who speaks English as a second language, simply misspoke and didn’t explain the gesture well enough.
Regardless, the only way Báez was going to win the fans back was through his play down the stretch. Later that day, the Mets took the field to play a doubleheader against the Marlins at Citi Field. Báez didn’t start the first game because it was a suspended game from April, but entered as a pinch hitter and received a chorus of boos from Mets fans. Those boos quickly turned to cheers in the 9th inning, when Báez reached on a single to keep a rally going as the Mets tried to erase a 5-0 deficit. When Michael Conforto hit what appeared to be just a game-tying single, Báez hustled all the way around from first base to score the winning run in an incredible turn of events. It was probably the most dramatic moment of the Mets’ season and led to one of Gary Cohen’s best calls ever.
And thus is the Javier Báez Experience. It’s never boring, and it’s often frustrating, but then he’ll do something to make you jump out of your chair and all is forgiven. He reportedly stood up and took blame for the thumbs down gesture in a team meeting with Sandy Alderson after the incident, showing accountability and winning himself back over with the front office, which may have soured on him after the whole endeavor. There appears to be mutual interest for a reunion this winter, and the Mets may just be Báez’s most likely destination. It’s tough to know what the 28-year-old will command on the free agent market, but it’s nothing a team owned by Steve Cohen shouldn’t be able to afford.