NEW YORK -- The Mets may be going quietly in the last gasps of their season, but one significant member of their ranks is not.
Javier Báez solidified his status as the most unrelenting force in New York’s lineup on Friday, singling home the Mets’ first run in a 4-3 loss to the Phillies that dealt another blow to their thinning postseason chances. Even Báez’s best Yoenis Céspedes impression -- more on that later -- has not been enough to save the Mets’ season.
“I almost want to call it a letdown,” manager Luis Rojas said. “He’s been so clutch for us.”
That the Mets dropped another game at Citi Field was hardly the fault of Báez, who was the only New York hitter to drive home a run against Phillies starter Zack Wheeler. Although the Mets managed to knock Wheeler out of the game after five innings, he stuck around long enough to win, while Taijuan Walker took the loss after giving up two runs in five innings. The Mets fought back with three doubles off Archie Bradley in the eighth, including run-scoring hits by Michael Conforto and Kevin Pillar, but they could not complete the comeback.
Finishing 1-for-3 with his RBI single and a walk, Báez produced what has been a typical stat line for him. Since joining the Mets in a July 30 trade with the Cubs, Báez has compiled numbers comparable to some of the best Trade Deadline acquisitions in history, batting .306/.381/.581 with nine homers, 26 runs scored and 19 RBIs. Compare that to the 2015 version of Yoenis Céspedes, one of baseball’s most impactful Deadline rentals, who hit .295/.345/.605 with 10 homers, 23 runs and 26 RBIs over his first 139 plate appearances -- the same number Báez currently has on his ledger.
“Just a lot of energy, a very exciting player,” Walker said recently.
Báez has also stolen four bases, given the team excellent baserunning in general and played a defensively sound second base. If his efforts have not been celebrated as much as those of Céspedes, it’s mostly because the Mets have failed to convert them into victories.
To be clear: it’s not as if Báez comes free of long-term risk. The free-swinger’s 33.6 percent strikeout rate remains his highest since his rookie season. Then there is the matter of the “thumbs-down” saga that Báez personally ignited earlier this month, when he revealed that he, Francisco Lindor and other Mets players were essentially “booing” their own fan base -- a sentiment for which Báez subsequently apologized.
But on the balance, Báez appears to have done more than enough to beg the question of whether the Mets might consider locking him up beyond this season.
“I’ve always liked New York, being here,” he said earlier this week. “In the past, playing for the Cubs, I was usually here for a weekend or something. But I’ve got a lot of family here, so it’s been great. ... I obviously love New York.”
Similar to most players, Báez’s ultimate destination will depend upon dollars and cents -- at this point, a significant unknown. While the Mets could certainly use a player of his skill set, they’ll also enter the offseason in rather dire need of pitching and outfield help. It’s not outside the realm of possibility to think the team could shell out nine-figure deals for players in those areas, which would perhaps incline them to seek cheaper options at second base.
Báez will likely seek a nine-figure deal himself, considering the extent to which Lindor ($341 million) and Fernando Tatis Jr. ($340 million) recently inflated the market for up-the-middle superstars. It remains to be seen if teams will consider Báez part of that class; amidst a free-agent landscape that will also include Carlos Correa, Trevor Story and Corey Seager, Báez’s ability to spark a bidding war could mostly depend upon whether big-market teams like the Dodgers and Yankees enter the fray.
If they don’t, and Báez’s price drops, a return to Flushing would become more realistic. It is similar to the situation the Mets faced after the 2015 season, when they entered the winter not really expecting to re-sign Céspedes. Only after multiple other teams passed did Céspedes grow comfortable with the idea of a three-year, $75 million contract offer with an opt-out after year one.
Ultimately, Céspedes returned to New York. Might Báez do the same?
“We’ll see,” Baez said. “I don’t have that decision right now. … I mean, my numbers are there. We’ll see what happens in the offseason.”