This could get very interesting.
Sorry, no, not the pursuit of streaking Braves. Considering the Mets have lost 11 games in the NL East standings since the beginning of August, from four ahead to seven behind, they now would need a spectacular finish to have a shot, and they’ve offered no reason to believe that’s on the horizon, especially without Jacob deGrom.
Javier Baez, on the other hand, is drama waiting to happen. His return from the injured list gave the offense a badly-needed spark to help the Mets salvage Sunday’s series finale in Los Angeles, defeating the Dodgers 7-2. Both of his doubles helped energize a team that was desperate for a lifeline, especially the seventh-inning liner that looked like a single until Baez hustled it into a two-bagger just ahead of J.D. Davis’ home run, offering a reminder of what a dynamic force he can be when he’s at the top of his game.
In short, El Mago is just what this team so often seems to be lacking. That is, when he’s not chasing pitches a foot out of the strike zone.
Yes, as we have all seen since the Mets acquired him from the Cubs at the trade deadline, that’s very much a part of the package, as Baez can be equally exasperating and exhilarating. Even after his stint on the IL, in fact, his 146 strikeouts are still the most in the National League.
Meanwhile, it was only a few days ago that owner Steve Cohen famously tweeted about how the best teams have a more disciplined approach than these Mets, and Baez is practically the definition of an undisciplined hitter.
All of which leads to the rather fascinating question of whether Cohen and his front office will lock up Baez to a long-term contract as he heads for free agency this winter.
It could very well be tempting, based on the underperformance of so many position players this season, but, in truth, it’s hard to see how it works for the Mets.
Baez is going to be looking for a huge deal, at least reasonably close to the $341 million that his buddy Francisco Lindor received, even if his defense loses some of its value as a second baseman rather than a shortstop. And having a $600 million middle infield is a luxury even Cohen probably won’t deem affordable, no matter how high he is willing to take the payroll.
For one thing, let’s not forget that Robinson Cano returns from suspension in 2022 and his $20 million salary counts against that payroll next season. As poorly as the Mets have hit this season, Cano’s bat suddenly looms as an asset for this ballclub again, especially since the DH is likely to be adopted next season.
And while Michael Conforto likely has played his way out of a long-term deal, Marcus Stroman is pitching his way to a big payday as he, too, heads for free agency, and the Mets are going to have to find a way to sign him to a multi-year deal.
The right-hander has been their most consistent starter (other than the injured deGrom, obviously) pitching to a 2.85 ERA, and he came up big when needed on Sunday, holding the Dodgers to two runs over six innings to get the win.
Theoretically you could make the case the Mets could live without Stroman, as they’ll have deGrom, Carlos Carrasco, Taijuan Walker, Tylor Megill all back, and perhaps free agent-to-be Noah Syndergaard on some type of one-year contract as he tries to rebuild value coming off what looks like will be two lost seasons to Tommy John surgery.
However, at age 34, deGrom will be somewhat of a question mark after this injury-plagued season, and the same goes for Carrasco. Meanwhile, the Mets have little in the way of blue-chip pitching prospects close to being ready for the big-league level.
Finally, barring a complete turnaround down the stretch, you’d have to think the front office will look to make significant changes to inject life into the offense, which could mean paying for a big bat via trade or free agency.
The versatile Kris Bryant would seem to be a better fit than Baez. Same for Nick Castellanos, who has an opt-out with the Reds and could replace Conforto in right field.
But who knows? Baez has a little more than a month to do something special for these Mets and perhaps convince the brass that he’s the impact guy they need, high strikeout total and all.
There’s also his friendship with Lindor, who apparently has some influence with the owner, reportedly helping to convince Cohen that giving up last year’s first-round draft choice, Pete Crow-Armstrong, was worth it to get Baez.
Perhaps that’s changed a bit since Cohen tweeted his frustration with the Mets’ offense, but as Lindor is expected to come off the IL in the next few days, he, too, has the chance to change the narrative on his disappointing first year in New York.
Yes, it may be too late to save the Mets’ season after their dizzying August collapse, but Lindor and Baez could still change the outlook for next year and beyond if they finally get to play together up the middle and prove to be a galvanizing force for this team.
At the moment it would seem the Mets should have other priorities this winter. But more days like Baez had on Sunday and perhaps he can convince Cohen that an even an undisciplined hitter can be the game-changer this team needs.