Although Ruben Tejada has outperformed the low expectations that were attached to him entering the 2014 season, the Mets are still in need of an upgrade at shortstop. While Tejada has gotten on base at a solid clip, he still ranks near the bottom of the majors in too many offensive categories to be viewed as a long-term solution. The biggest issue, is Tejada’s almost total lack of power.
In the search to replace Tejada, or at least relegate him to backup status, lots of names have been thrown around.
Prior to the season, the Mets were linked to Nick Franklin of Seattle and Didi Gregorius of Arizona. A few weeks ago, Starlin Castro‘s name started to pop up as someone the Mets might be able to pry away from the Cubs.
So, who is Javier Baez?
Some thoughts from the experts at Baseball Prospectus:
Baez has franchise altering power, and assuming the hit tool can play average, he’s going to be extremely valuable. There are certainly some questions about his approach, but I think the realistic slash line looks similar to Nelson Cruz. On the left side of the infield, that’s outstanding.
The ceiling is Gary Sheffield. The floor could be any powerful young player who fails to make adjustments at the major league level once the league sees him the first time around. That’s the key. Baez is going to come up and amaze everyone for a little while because he’s ridiculously talented. Then the league will get a book on him and pitch him differently. What happens from there will determine his future. If he adjusts back after the league adjusts to him, it’s on.
One front office source told me that thinks Baez has hall of fame potential. No don’t go crazy with one projection, but if you really believe in the bat–meaning you think he will reach his offensive projections–35+ home runs is possible, all from a left-side of the diamond home. This is an extreme opinion, but not all that crazy when it comes to potential. Javier Baez could have a very special bat; the hand/eye, the bat speed, the raw strength are elite. If he puts it all together, he could be one of the best players in the game. If he stays healthy and consistent once he achieves that level, the hyperbole and hype of the present won’t seem so crazy.
As is the case with pretty much every high ceiling player, there’s risk attached to Baez. It revolves mostly around him being able to refine his approach at the plate and cut down his strikeout rate.
So far this season for Triple-A Iowa, Baez has hit .240/.305/.449 with 14 home runs and 55 RBI in 348 at-bats. The average and OBP are a bit concerning, but much less so when you consider that Baez is one of the youngest players in the league.
Also concerning is Baez’ strikeout rate, which sits at 31.6 %.
When you dig deeper, though, you’ll see that Baez has improved his strikeout rate each month as the season has gone on:
April: 34.9 %
May: 34.5 %
June: 29.3 %
July: 26.0 %
For comparisons sake, Giancarlo Stanton currently has a career strikeout rate of 28.0 %.
With the Cubs having just traded for shortstop Addison Russell, and with Starlin Castro under contract at a reasonable rate for the next several years, Baez could be expendable. That doesn’t mean, however, that he’ll come cheap.
In order for the Mets to pry Baez away, they would very likely have to part with either Noah Syndergaard or Zack Wheeler. The Cubs may want more than a one-for-one deal for Baez, at which point the Mets would have to consider just how far they’re willing to go to acquire the potential “franchise altering” bat.
The other option for the Mets at shortstop that has “franchise altering” potential is Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki, who is 30 years old, will cost a fortune in prospects, and is owed $118 million dollars.
The less splashy but smarter play would be going for Baez.
It would hurt to lose the player or players the Mets would have to deal in exchange for Baez, but the reward could be incredible.