Mets have to be tantalized by Javier Baez's new plate discipline as free agency nears

·5 min read
Javier Baez Francisco Lindor METS TREATED ART
Javier Baez Francisco Lindor METS TREATED ART

When the Mets traded for Javier Baez, they got a player who was at the top of the league in strikeouts and whose free-swinging ways were known and accepted.

But something interesting has happened since the trade.

While with the Chicago Cubs earlier this season, Baez walked 15 times in 361 plate appearances over 91 games (a rate of one walk per 24 plate appearances).

Since joining the Mets, Baez has walked 12 times in 154 plate appearances over 39 games (a rate of one walk per 12.8 plate appearances).

Baez's strikeouts since coming to the Mets are down, too.

While with the Cubs earlier in 2021, Baez struck out a whopping 131 times -- a rate of once per 2.6 plate appearances.

Since joining the Mets, Baez's strikeout rate is still relatively high, but it's much more palatable -- a rate of once per 3.6 plate appearances.

Along the way, it has certainly appeared like Baez has made a concerted effort to be more selective at the plate while still pouncing on hittable pitches.

And his numbers as a Met reflect that.

Sep 9, 2021; Miami, Florida, USA; New York Mets second baseman Javier Baez (23) scores a run in the 1st inning on the wild pitch of Miami Marlins starting pitcher Jesus Luzardo (not pictured) at loanDepot park.
Sep 9, 2021; Miami, Florida, USA; New York Mets second baseman Javier Baez (23) scores a run in the 1st inning on the wild pitch of Miami Marlins starting pitcher Jesus Luzardo (not pictured) at loanDepot park.

Baez is hitting .307/.383/.555 with nine homers and seven doubles in 39 games with the Mets as he nears free agency.

Perhaps it's Baez's proximity to free agency that has made him more selective at the plate -- being a more controlled hitter while still doing an obscene amount of damage with the bat will be more appealing to interested teams. Or perhaps it's something else.

But if it's sustainable -- the selectivity, not the torrid pace Baez is on with the Mets -- the reason behind the shift doesn't really matter.

And even before becoming more selective, Baez's skill set was incredibly intriguing.

That skill set included Baez's power and speed combination, his elite defense, his on-field savvy, his knack for coming up big in key moments, and his base running.

The question now for the Mets and other interested teams is whether or not this new version of Baez will be the type of player he is going forward.

After speaking with scouts and executives, SNY contributor John Harper reported last week that Baez could get "anywhere from a low end of $125 million over five or six years to a high end pushing $200 million over seven or eight years" in free agency.

Sep 4, 2021; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; New York Mets second baseman Javier Baez (23) rounds third base after hitting a home run against the Washington Nationals in the second inning at Nationals Park.
Sep 4, 2021; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; New York Mets second baseman Javier Baez (23) rounds third base after hitting a home run against the Washington Nationals in the second inning at Nationals Park.

Right after Lindor was acquired, I was lukewarm on his potential future with the Mets. Part of that had to do with his penchant for expanding the zone and part of it had to do with the fact that -- for a number of reasons -- he wasn't a perfect fit.

Still, the last sentence of my piece about Baez on July 31 was this:

But if Baez is electric in Queens and starts to eliminate some of the swing-and-miss from his game, pairing him with Lindor long-term will be a tantalizing option.

The above is exactly what has happened.

And the more Baez plays and the more I've gotten to watch him, the more sense it's starting to make for retaining him to be considered one of the Mets' top offseason priorities.

Francisco Lindor, who was in the team's ear in advance of the Baez trade, thinks Baez fits what the Mets are trying to accomplish.

Aug 31, 2021; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) and New York Mets second baseman Javier Baez (23) embrace to celebrate the victory after the ninth inning against the Miami Marlins at Citi Field.
Aug 31, 2021; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) and New York Mets second baseman Javier Baez (23) embrace to celebrate the victory after the ninth inning against the Miami Marlins at Citi Field.

"I know Javy does fit in, in what we're trying to accomplish here," Lindor told reporters on Wednesday. "He's a winner, he plays the game as hard as he can day in and day out. He gives it his best, and he's my boy, too. That helps. At the end of the day, I know what he's capable of doing, we've all seen it. His approach has been outstanding, and he's definitely helped us win a couple more games in September for sure."

So how much of a fit is Baez?

Of all of the big infielders who are set to be available this offseason, three of them -- Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, and Trevor Story -- will be tied to a qualifying offer. And for the Mets, because of what they would likely have to give up in the 2022 MLB Draft to sign one of those guys, making their big splashes elsewhere makes sense.

That could mean Kris Bryant. It could mean Max Scherzer (in the seemingly unlikely event they convince him to pitch in New York). It could mean a big trade. Or it could mean some combination of the above.

San Francisco Giants third baseman Kris Bryant (23) reacts after scoring against the Chicago Cubs during the eighth inning at Wrigley Field.
San Francisco Giants third baseman Kris Bryant (23) reacts after scoring against the Chicago Cubs during the eighth inning at Wrigley Field.

In addition to Baez, the Mets have other pending free agents whom it makes tons of sense to bring back, including Michael Conforto, Marcus Stroman, and Noah Syndergaard.

The Mets can't sign every top free agent, but can they sign Bryant and retain Baez? Probably. And that would make for a hell of an infield with Bryant, Lindor, Baez, and Pete Alonso from left to right.

Bryant would also be an option to play corner outfield.

When considering whether to bring back Baez or sign a player like Bryant, there are also top prospects to take into consideration.

Two of the Mets' top prospects -- Mark Vientos in Triple-A and Brett Baty in Double-A -- are on the cusp of the majors and are natural third basemen.

But Vientos and Baty have also gotten time in the outfield this season and could profile at DH in the likely event the universal DH is added before the 2022 season.

That brings us back to Baez.

With each passing day, his inclusion on the Mets in 2022 and beyond is becoming more and more tantalizing.

How do the Mets feel about it, do they believe Baez's new approach at the plate is sustainable, and what will it take to keep him? We'll find out soon.

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