Mets acquire Báez, Williams from Cubs

July 31st, 2021

NEW YORK -- In the hours leading up to Friday’s 4 p.m. ET Trade Deadline, Mets president Sandy Alderson and general manager Zack Scott called their star shortstop, Francisco Lindor, to solicit his input on a potential trade. The Mets wanted to acquire Lindor’s childhood friend and former double-play partner from Team Puerto Rico at the World Baseball Classic, Javier Báez. Lindor responded by offering his support.

So it came to be that the Mets completed one of the game’s splashier Deadline deals, acquiring Báez and pitcher Trevor Williams from the Cubs for outfield prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong. Báez will fill in at shortstop over the next few weeks while Lindor nurses a strained right oblique. Once Lindor is healthy, Báez can shift to second to form a potentially electric double-play combination, while also filling in at third base or even the outfield.

“I couldn’t be happier,” Lindor said. “I’m going to be playing alongside a good friend of mine -- a great person, a great baseball player, and somebody who’s going to help us win. It can’t get any better. I’m very happy. I can’t wait for him to come out here and put on a show for everybody.”

A two-time All-Star and former National League MVP runner-up, Báez was hitting .248 with 22 homers in 91 games for the Cubs. He is also a Gold Glover at shortstop, which will be his home initially. (Lindor recently restarted baseball activities but remains weeks away from a return).

“He called me a few times,” Báez said of Lindor. “My phone is kind of blowing up. But he’s really excited. I’m really excited to play right next to him.”

Once Lindor does make it back, Báez can shift primarily to second, where he has played regularly in the past but not since 2018. But he can also fill in at third base or even left field -- spots he’s played previously in his big league career. Jeff McNeil likewise boasts experience at all three of those positions, giving manager Luis Rojas several options for regular moving parts in his lineup, as Báez, McNeil, J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith all potentially slide in and out based upon matchups.

“We have some versatility,” Scott said. “So I think that alone will allow us to find the best spot for everyone.”

In the same trade, the Mets acquired Williams (whom they immediately optioned to Triple-A Syracuse) to provide a measure of starting pitching depth -- something that could prove useful with Jacob deGrom likely out until at least September. The right-hander produced a 5.06 ERA over 12 starts and a relief appearance for the Cubs, with 61 strikeouts in 58 2/3 innings.

The price was Crow-Armstrong, the Mets’ fifth-ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline. A speedy potential future leadoff hitter, Crow-Armstrong appeared in just six games this season before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery, after impressing Mets officials throughout a strong spring.

“This was about sustaining success,” Alderson said. “We had to balance -- I guess one always does -- the present with the future. We gave up a really good prospect, but we weren’t prepared to sell the farm.”

For the Mets, that meant passing on deals for more accomplished pitchers, despite room for upgrades in both the rotation and bullpen. The Mets balked at the asking price for available pitchers such as José Berríos, for example, who instead went to the Blue Jays, and they never had a chance to land Max Scherzer, who made it known that he did not want to play for them. A source said the Twins’ asking price for Berríos didn’t come down from a package of Jeff McNeil, catching prospect Francisco Álvarez, and one other top-seven prospect in the organization.

The Mets had no intentions of paying such a haul for Berríos or any other available starter, so they worked to improve their team in other ways. They hope the acquisitions of Báez and Williams, along with their prior trade for starter Rich Hill, will be enough to hold off the Braves and Phillies, who also improved.

All told, Mets officials are pleased, knowing how electric a talent Báez can be -- the type of player that manager Luis Rojas said he’s “always been a fan of from afar.”

“There are some extra things he has that make him unique,” Scott said. “He’s played in an environment where there were expectations to win. He’s won. He brings it every day, energy-wise. He’s not going to back down from this kind of market. He’s going to thrive in it, if anything. This guy, from everything I’ve heard, is fearless.”

Earlier this week, Báez spoke glowingly about Lindor, telling the Puerto Rican radio station Mega 106.9 FM that he “would like to play” with his former World Baseball Classic teammate again. Specifically, Báez was talking about coming to New York once he becomes a free agent this winter.

Now, he’s in New York via trade, and once again a teammate of Lindor’s. It’s a prospect that excites the Mets as they look to win their first NL East title in six years.

“It’s not easy for us to give up prospects,” Alderson said. “But in this particular case, when you’re a few games ahead in the division going into Aug. 1, we needed to do something. And not only to improve the team, but to demonstrate to the players that we had their back and were attempting to make the team better for the next 60 games.”