Wise to pass on: Javier Baez
After leading the National League East for most of the first half of 2021, the Mets made a deadline trade with the Cubs for Javier Baez to boost the lineup down the stretch. And while they faded, Baez made an intriguing case for being more than just a two-month rental.
In many ways, the infielder’s time with the Mets largely mirrored his career to that point. Another Cubs’ first round pick, Baez came into his own in in 2018 when, at just 25 years old, he finished as the runner-up in the N.L. MVP race with 34 home runs, 111 runs batted in, and a .290 batting average. He largely maintained that level of production the following year, but like his teammate Kris Bryant, cratered to a .599 OPS in 2020.
The prevailing theme over his career is that Baez can be very streaky with the bat. His above-average power and hard-hit rate (percentage of balls in play with an exit velocity greater than 95 mph) are neutralized by his inability to put balls in play on a consistent basis – his career strikeout rate of 29.3 percent is 7.5 points higher than league average since debuting in 2014.
In just two months as a Met, fans saw both sides of Baez at the plate. Across 65 plate appearances in August, Baez hit just .213 with a .671 OPS and 21 strikeouts. Across his final 28 games, however, he hit .347 with a .981 OPS and a more manageable 30 strikeouts across 115 plate appearances. Interestingly, he also had a much more patient approach during that final stretch, with 10 walks in September-October compared to just 18 in the five months prior.
Ultimately, Baez signed a six-year, $140 million deal with the Detroit Tigers that includes an opt-out clause after the second year. There was a lot to like during his time as a Met – his defense at second base was stellar as well – but the penchant for streakiness and some drama caused off the field were enough to make this a wise pass. The Mets are better off banking on a rebound season from Jeff McNeil than committing that large of a contract to Baez.