NY Mets: Beware the honeymoon phase with Javier Baez
Don’t get me wrong, Javier Baez is a very good baseball player. He’s a gold-glove caliber fielder, an outstanding baserunner, a great power bat (especially for a middle infielder), and overall just one of the most exciting players in the league — even more so since he got to the New York Mets.
He’s probably been the Amazin’s best player during the team’s not-so-slow descent from first place in the NL East to yet another losing record.
He’s been great, certainly better than a lot of people thought he would be, myself included. However, if the Mets re-sign him in the offseason, I am worried that these last two months will be the best two months Baez will ever have in the orange and blue.
The Mets should bring Javy back — but only if the price is right.
Through his first 44 games with the Mets, he has an OPS of .929. He’s hit .316, slugged nine home runs and driven eight doubles, all very good things.
Most impressively though, he’s drawn 13 base on balls, good for a walk rate over 7%. It’s nothing crazy, and for most players, it’s certainly nothing to write home about. For Juan Soto, it’s just another Thursday.
However, for Baez, it’s huge.
Javy is a free swinger, and leaving it at that is massively understating it. He leads the National League in strikeouts this season while also being in the bottom-10 in walks of all qualified hitters. Baez is the only player in baseball to be in the top-10 in strikeouts and bottom-10 in walks among qualifiers.
He swings a lot, at anything and with full power every single time. The fact he has 13 walks with the Mets through 44 games is very unexpected, especially since he had just 15 with the Cubs through 91 games to start the season.
His approach at the plate looks different, as it does appear he’s become a little bit more selective. As a result, he’s gotten more pitches to hit, and he’s taken advantage.
There’s is one major question though: Is this sustainable?
Right now, I believe the Baez and the Mets are in a honeymoon phase.
For one, he’s never sustained an OPS above .900 over a full season in his career. His best year was 2018 when he came in second in the NL MVP race, and even then he only had an OPS of .881.
He’s also never sustained this type of walk rate, never even breaking 6% in a full season much less 7% as he has in his stint with the Mets.
Obviously, he brings a lot more to the game than just what he does at the plate, but at the end of the day, that’s what matters most.
If the price isn’t out of this world, then he should be back next season. But if he’s demanding superstar money, the Mets should let him walk.
The Mets already have a ton committed to next season, and that doesn’t include Marcus Stroman, who should be priority number one. He’s going to get a huge deal from someone, and that someone NEEDS to be the Mets.
A decision needs to be made about Michael Conforto and Noah Syndergaard as well, who are also both free agents. A popular idea has been bringing them back on the qualifying offer, but that’s not cheap.
Jacob deGrom needs an extension soon. Brandon Nimmo does as well. Pete Alonso is starting arbitration and will definitely get a nice pay bump. It likely won’t happen in 2022, but the Mets will probably try to lock him up long-term within the next few years before he can test the waters.
The Mets should have a huge payroll, they’re in the biggest market in the world. I expect them to blow past the luxury tax threshold next season, and it would be a disappointment if they didn’t — but you also just can’t have a $500 million payroll. Contrary to popular belief, you can’t have a 26-man roster with everyone on a mega-deal.
Not everyone can be making top-shelf money. Decisions have to be made, and Javier Baez might be one of those unfortunate decisions.
He can’t be paid like a .929 OPS, 7%-plus walk rate type of player because odds are that’s not what he is.
What’s more likely is that he’s the player he’s been throughout his entire career: A lot of pop with a low on-base percentage. He’ll hit his fair share of bombs, but much more often than not he’ll be walking back to the dugout never having sniffed the ball.
I’ll leave it at this — I believe Javier Baez is a tightrope player. It’s an unfamiliar term, I know, so here’s where it comes from and what it means.
In a video about Baltimore Orioles’ first baseman Chris Davis, YouTuber Foolish Baseball pinned Davis as what he called a “tightrope player.”
Tightrope players, as he defined it, are “players who embrace their extreme profiles to great success … but when a tightrope player stumbles just a little bit, they fall a long way.”
I believe this fits Baez perfectly. With his style of hitting, there are going to be some extreme highs, and right now he’s in the midst of one. However, there are also going to be some extreme lows.
Mets fans have only seen the highs, and that’s dangerous. It’s going to create unrealistic expectations for the future.
Chris Davis hit 53 home runs and came in third in AL MVP voting in 2013. He followed that up with a 2014 season where he put up a .196 batting average and .700 OPS. He rebounded in 2015 but fell back down a noticeable amount in 2016 and 2017 before taking a nose-dive in 2018 that he never pulled out of. The Orioles were paying him $17 million a year to do so, and that doesn’t even include the over $40 million that is still owed to him in deferred money.
It’s not a smart idea to give a mega-deal to a tightrope player. Sure, it’s exhilarating when he’s in the air performing the ultimate balancing act, hitting home runs, manufacturing excitement with his heads up base running and making no-look tags.
Eventually, though, he’ll stumble, and then the flashy fielding won’t seem as charming anymore. You can’t be a great baserunner if you don’t get on base.
Who knows, maybe his new approach is here to stay. Maybe, after over half a decade of swinging at anything near the plate and then also at a bunch nowhere close, he improved his discipline.
Or maybe he’s simply having a hot streak to close out his contract year, and over a season-long sample size, he’ll even out to his career averages.
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Giving Baez a mega-deal is a huge risk, and one the Mets shouldn’t take.