Fortifying one area of need, but failing to address the others, the Mets made just one deal Friday before the trade deadline, acquiring shortstop Javier Baez, righthander Trevor Williams and cash from the Cubs for centerfield prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong.
Baez should be a boost to the Mets’ lineup — particularly against lefthanders — and infield. Williams was immediately demoted to Triple-A Syracuse, where he will wait until the Mets need another starter/long reliever.
With just a few hours to act after learning that ace Jacob deGrom would be out until at least September with renewed elbow inflammation, the Mets decided not to add significant pitching help, which they said for weeks was their top priority. They deemed the cost of doing so too high.
Now they hope this will be enough for them to hold on to first place in the NL East — and then make a deep run through the playoffs.
Home runs: 22
Stolen bases: 13
"You win your division, you got a good shot," acting general manager Zack Scott said. "We have as good a shot as anybody."
Team president Sandy Alderson added: "We needed to do something — not only to improve the team, but to demonstrate to the players that we had their back and we were attempting to make the team better the next 60 games."
Baez, 28, and set to reach free agency after this season, is friends and former World Baseball Classic teammates with Francisco Lindor, the Mets’ starting shortstop out with a strained right oblique until mid-to-late August. Once he joins the team Saturday, Baez will play shortstop until Lindor returns, then switch to second or third base (which will require the Mets to get creative with Jeff McNeil and J.D. Davis, infielders who have played the corner outfield).
Because of Lindor and Baez’s history, Mets bosses consulted with the Puerto Rican dynamo they already had about the one they wanted to bring in. They liked Baez because of his skill set, yes, but also for his intangibles and experience.
"He’s played in an environment where there are expectations to win, and he brings it every day energy-wise," Scott said. "He’s not going to back down from this kind of market. He’s going to thrive in it, if anything. This guy through everything is fearless and wants nothing more than to win. So I think he fits right in, he fits in well with our clubhouse."
Baez this season has been something less than his 2018-19 All-Star self, hitting .248 with a .292 OBP and .484 slugging percentage — and a career-high strikeout rate of 36.3%, highest among qualified major-leaguers. His 131 strikeouts lead the league. He has 22 homers and 65 RBIs. After winning his first Gold Glove during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Baez’s advanced defensive metrics are down across the board this year.
Williams, 29 and not scheduled to become a free agent until after the 2022 season, is a starting pitcher whom the Mets consider rotation depth, which has been severely weakened by injuries. He had a 5.06 ERA and 1.53 WHIP in 13 games for the Cubs.
Crow-Armstrong, 19, impressed team officials while attending major-league spring training, where he was probably the Mets’ best defensive outfielder. Going into the season, he was ranked as the Mets’ No. 4 prospect by Baseball America and No. 5 by MLB Pipeline. He played six games before needing shoulder surgery.
Over the offseason, and again in recent weeks, the Mets preferred not to trade from their top tier of prospects, of which Crow-Armstrong was a part. They decided it was worth it for Baez. In other instances, not so.
The top pitcher to be dealt was Max Scherzer, who had trade-veto rights and did not want to join the Mets (who traded for Rich Hill last week). Then there were Jose Berrios (Twins to Blue Jays) and Kyle Gibson (Rangers to Phillies).
Alderson explained that the market was such that sellers preferred to pay most of the salaries of players they were trading in exchange for higher-quality prospects. The Mets, considered to have a middling farm system in their first year under multi-billionaire owner Steve Cohen, didn’t want to pay the prospect price.
They Mets tried, they said. They tried a lot of stuff.
"Talent was more important than cash," Alderson said. "We gave up a really good prospect, but we weren’t prepared to sell the farm."
Meet The New Met
Nickname: El Mago (Spanish for “The Magician”)
Drafted by Cubs in first round (9th overall) in 2011
MLB Experience: 8 seasons
Career Stats: .262 AVG, .777 OPS, 754 hits, 140 HRs, 443 RBIs
2021 Stats: .248 AVG, .775 OPS, 83 hits, 22 HRs, 65 RBIs
Note: 131 Strikeouts lead league
Honors: Two-time All-Star (2018, 2019)
Contract Status: Free agent after 2021 season
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