Report: Mets unable to retain Javier Báez, who signs with the Tigers
There are ramifications all over the diamond for the Mets with Báez departing for the motor city.
While the Mets have unquestionably have had a productive run at free agency early this winter, they have seen another one of their free agents depart for as star infielder Javier Báez is signing with the Detroit Tigers on a six-year, $140 million contract according to Mark Feinsand.
Jon Morosi of MLB Network first reported Báez and the Tigers were in contract negotiations and close to a deal. The Mets, Tigers and Red Sox were reportedly bidding for Báez’s services, reports Jon Heyman of MLB Network.
The Mets acquired Báez, 28, ahead of the 2021 trade deadline with hopes he would provide necessary power and balance to a sagging lineup for the stretch drive in August in September. The price was steep, as they dealt 2020 first-round selection Pete Crow-Armstrong to the Cubs to acquire him. But Báez certainly did his job and did it extremely well, showing renewed plate discipline and slashing .299/.371/.515 with nine home runs and 22 RBI with 13 walks in 186 plate appearances over 47 games with New York, this after walking just 15 times in 361 plate appearances with the Cubs before the trade.
Báez freely moved to second base once Francisco Lindor returned from the injured list and formed a dynamic defensive combination with his long-time friend up the middle. Báez has produced just a 104 OPS+ during his eight year career thanks in large measure to his propensity to strikeout – he struck out a league-leading 184 times in 2021 and has averaged 179 strikeouts per 162 game season since 2014.
Still, Báez is a gold glove caliber middle infielder, arguably the most athletic player in the game today and if he can maintain his newfound plate discipline, can serve as one of the most feared forces in the game right now.
The Tigers clearly offered the opportunity for Báez to be their full-time shortstop, that which neither the Mets nor the Red Sox could do in the short and long-term. And according to SNY’s Andy Martino, the two sides couldn’t find common ground on a price point for Baez’s services. and the allure of playing alongside his life-long friend in Francisco Lindor was ultimately not enough for the Mets to be able to retain Báez, either.
The Mets will not receive draft compensation for losing Báez to free agency, as he was traded mid-season ahead of free agency. That along with losing Crow-Armstrong doubles what was already a big blow to the Mets.
The argument can be made, however, that investing six years on a player whose game is mostly built on athleticism and raw ability could come with it’s own risks. It is possible that the Mets tried to re-up Báez on a shorter, big-money deal — which would have been more palatable for the club long-term — but it’s hard to blame Báez for going with the security that Detroit offered him.
With his departure, the Mets are not without internal replacement options at second base, although Báez’s exit unquestionably weakens what was a clear defensive strength up the middle on the infield.
The Mets can always shift Jeff McNeil back on a full-time or semi-regular basis and have Robinson Canó, Eduardo Escobar and/or Luis Guillorme step in as-needed as well. McNeil did produce four defensive runs saved at second base for the Mets in 2021 and has proven to be a net positive overall at that position in his career. It is also possible that New York could look at the third base market following the lockout, which would allow them to shift Escobar to second.
Given the reported acquisition of Escobar, it would seem a pursuit of Kris Bryant is less likely. In addition, given he tied to draft compensation and he would be forced to move from his natural position, a pursuit of Carlos Correa would seem unlikely as well. That could mean the Mets will keep one of or both JD Davis and Dominic Smith alongside Mark Canha as options for the outfield, with Brandon Nimmo shifting to right field after the Mets reportedly signed Starling Marte to a four-year contract. With all of that said, it’s easy to envision a consistent, matchup-based rotation in the corner outfield spots unless the club makes a trade.