The Mets better hope for a 2015 Cespedes-like surge out of Javy Baez after getting him from the Cubs roughly 90 minutes before Friday’s deadline.
Unless there’s something we don’t know, and he also throws 100 mph with a wicked slider.
Because in keeping with the Mets’ long tradition of following a positive event by blindsiding everyone with something terrible, acting general manager Zack Scott — shortly after the Baez presser — revealed that Jacob deGrom was being shut down for two weeks (again) with elbow inflammation.
Though there’s never a good time to discover the best pitcher on the planet is not likely to return until September — now the most optimistic scenario — finding out a few hours before the deadline was less than ideal. Scott said deGrom felt discomfort after Thursday’s 36-pitch side session, went for an MRI around noon Friday and the Mets didn’t have a results-based strategy for him until 1 or so.
By then, it was too late to formulate any contingency plans for the dwindling trade market. As if that were even possible for a two-time Cy Young winner who was a lock for a third before his second trip to the IL earlier this month.
"It didn’t really change things," Scott said, "because you can’t replace Jacob deGrom."
The closest thing on the market was Max Scherzer, owner of three Cy trophies, but the Mets were told days ago he’d use his veto power to nix any trade to Flushing, and he wound up going to the Dodgers with Trea Turner. Next on the list was the Twins’ Jose Berrios, but the Blue Jays grabbed him Friday.
"If another team had a better package of players," Scott said, "you can’t force them to like our package better."
Otherwise, what was left? Andrew Heaney? Kyle Gibson? J.A. Happ? Jon Lester? Scott pointed out it was mostly back of the rotation starters available, and the Mets picked up one of those, Trevor Williams, along with Baez from the Cubs.
As much as they feared a deGrom setback, the Mets had to realize this was a possibility, based on a flurry of minor ailments this season that seemed to arise from the superhuman strain he puts on his body by generating more velocity — more frequently — than any pitcher in the game. Plus, he already was on the IL, and they were being extra-careful with the rehab process.
That’s the most troubling part. Even the cautionary pace failed to solve the problem, and though Scott said the MRI showed no structural damage, what reason is there to believe he’ll ever be healthy again this season? From what we’ve been told, all of his MRIs this season have come back clean, yet deGrom only seems to be moving farther away from the rotation.
Obviously, it’s a big problem. Before hearing about deGrom, the Baez trade had to be viewed as a significant boost for the Mets. Though not the front-end starter or shutdown reliever most pegged as the team’s top priorities, Baez brings two things the Mets could definitely use: an elite everyday shortstop to fill-in for the injured Francisco Lindor and a lethal bat against lefthanded pitching.
As a bonus, Baez easily slides over to second base to play alongside his close buddy Lindor — expected back by late August — and create one of the most dazzling double play combos in the sport. The Mets also liked the fact that Baez was coming from a pressurized environment, having won a World Series with the Cubs, and could be re-energized about joining Lindor on a contender in New York.
"When you’re a few games ahead in the division on roughly Aug. 1, we need to do something," president Sandy Alderson said. "Not only to improve the team, but to demonstrate to the players that we had their back and we’re attempting to make the team better for the next 60 games."
The addition of Baez unquestionably makes the Mets better. They’ll have to grimace through the strikeouts, but he’s also mashed 22 homers this season. How much better is going to depend on the status of deGrom, the unique weapon they’re lucky enough to have. And Scott was right. No trade was going to make deGrom’s setback any easier to stomach.