Mets' 3B of future? It's Baty's for the taking

Extension with Padres takes Machado off the table for Mets next offseason

February 26th, 2023

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- For the Mets, it was easy to dream. First, Carlos Correa agreed to terms to become their long-term third baseman, which lasted until medical concerns caused the Mets to back away from that deal. At that point, it seemed only natural to take a longing glance toward Manny Machado, who had the ability to become a free agent next offseason. But the Machado balloon likewise burst on Sunday, when he agreed to an 11-year, $350 million extension with the Padres, according to a source.

And yet even after all that, there is little reason for the Mets to fret. Given owner Steve Cohen’s willingness to spend lavishly on his roster, it can become easy to look past those already in the clubhouse at Clover Park -- including Brett Baty, one of baseball’s top prospects and a well-qualified option as their third baseman of the future.

With Correa in Minnesota and Machado firmly planted in San Diego, the path for Baty to entrench himself in New York is far clearer than it was two months ago. Truth is, that might have been the shrewdest plan all along.

“This game, this is such a business and it’s so uncontrollable, so I’m just focused on whatever I can do,” Baty said Sunday morning after hearing the Machado news. “I can’t really focus on the uncontrollables, the stuff that’s maybe a year away. I’m just focused on whatever I can do to help this ballclub win.”

There’s little question that Baty is achieving it in the early days of camp. With a 2-for-2 performance in the Mets’ intrasquad game Friday and a two-run homer in their Grapefruit League opener the following afternoon, Baty has produced the type of early results that, if extrapolated, could make decisions difficult for Mets officials at the end of camp. For now, Eduardo Escobar is New York’s starting third baseman, but there’s a path for Baty to supplant him if he continues to rake. At the least, Baty could form a platoon with Escobar, starting every day against right-handed pitchers while Escobar soaks up the rest.

However that mini drama unfolds, it appears certain that Baty -- the Mets' first-round Draft pick in 2019, their No. 2 prospect and MLB's 18th-ranked prospect overall, per MLB Pipeline -- will have a fair shake at some point to entrench himself as New York’s everyday third baseman.

That wasn’t always the case. When the Mets agreed to terms with Correa in December, Cohen considered the two-time All-Star the missing piece the club needed to contend for a title. It wasn’t until a press conference last week that Cohen publicly backed off that line of thinking, acknowledging that “you get excited by possibilities … but he’s not the only player.”

“There’s never one person that makes a club or doesn’t make a club [complete],” Cohen added.

Still, Cohen’s willingness to pay hundreds of millions for Correa suggested he would consider doing the same for an even more accomplished player in Machado. Even if Baty played well, Cohen could have splurged on Machado, potentially pushing Baty to the outfield or even the trade block.

The fact that both Correa and Machado are elsewhere provides another cautionary take that Cohen’s money cannot buy everything. That includes Shohei Ohtani, another soon-to-be free agent who could become a Met, stay an Angel or go any number of other places. In free agency, guarantees do not exist.

Outside of the open market, things tend to be more certain -- such as the fact that Baty is under team control for six more seasons, the next three at close to the league minimum salary. New York’s safest and cheapest path to future contention has always revolved around Baty, who is coming off a year that saw him produce a .943 OPS in the upper Minors, force his way to the Majors ahead of schedule and homer on his first career swing. He has the ability to become one of baseball’s premier power hitters.

Now, Baty has both the long- and short-term opportunity to do so, too.

“Everything takes care of itself if you play well,” he said. “I’m a big believer in that. If you don’t like what you’ve been given, play better.”