The best trade deadlines captivate a team’s fan base (compel the fans to buy tickets or stream the games, right?) and reward a clubhouse for making such reinforcements necessary. They provide a clean narrative, a simple formula, for everyone to digest and execute.
The Mets’ 2021 deadline? It wound up giving most everyone indigestion.
Good god, what a freaky Friday for the Mets, who somehow managed to pull off one of the most compelling trades of the deadline — landing the dynamic Javier Baez from the Cubs — only to leave their fans reeling from 1) an injury setback for ace Jacob deGrom; 2) a 6-2 loss to the Reds at Citi Field; and 3) the postgame disclosure that Brandon Nimmo, one of the team’s best hitters, wouldn’t have hit in the bottom of the ninth, had the Mets’ rally continued, due to “a pinch in his hamstring” suffered while making a diving catch in the top of the frame.
It nevertheless won’t surprise you to learn that, on the bright side for these guys, they maintained their 3½-game National League East lead over the Phillies and four games over the Braves, as their top two challengers — both of which pulled off reinforcement deals on Friday — also lost.
Friday wound up being the type of day on which Francisco Lindor again expressed his unhappiness with Mets fans who expressed their displeasure, this time with the slumping Michael Conforto (“I hate seeing the crowd boo our players. It sucks”), and it barely registered, thanks to the overload of news.
The Mets would have benefited by making more news in the form of acquiring a pitcher besides Trevor Williams, who joined Baez in coming over from the Cubs and was immediately optioned to Triple-A Syracuse.
“Some of the top-end pitching just wasn’t available to us,” Mets president Sandy Alderson said at an in-person news conference Friday afternoon. “Some players had no-trade clauses and didn’t want to perhaps come to New York. In other cases, top-end starters were kept off the market until the very last minute and then exacted very high prices. So as you look at the starting pitching market, top to bottom … [we decided to] stick with our long-term plan just better off going in a different direction.”
Surely you know that Alderson was referring to two pitchers: future Hall of Famer Max Scherzer, who used his collectively bargained no-trade protection to steer himself from the Nationals to the Dodgers, and Jose Berrios, whom the Twins dealt to the Blue Jays for a delicious return of Austin Martin and Simeon Woods-Richardson. An equivalent package from the Mets, going off MLB.com prospect rankings, would’ve been Ronny Mauricio and Brett Baty, which surely would have turned some stomachs in Queens. And the Mets, their farm system top-heavy, couldn’t unearth any other treasures.
As for Baez, there’s no denying his strengths — power, proficiency against lefty pitching, speed, defense and a love of the spotlight — and maybe those can prove even more valuable now that the Mets have suffered the gut punch of deGrom’s right elbow inflammation, a development that imperils the rest of his season. Baez’s primary weakness is that he doesn’t walk; his 15 bases on balls for the season placed him sixth-worst among qualified major league hitters entering Friday. A curiosity has to be his propensity for in-game drama, as exemplified just this past week by his fine-drawing taunt of Reds reliever Amir Garrett after ripping a walk-off homer against him.
“What’s wrong with drama?” asked Alderson, who of course made Yoenis Cespedes a Met six years ago Saturday. And acting general manager Zack Scott said he joked to Baez, “We’re playing your buddy’s team.”
The other concern should be Baez’s role once Lindor recovers. Whose playing time, at what position, will the versatile infielder be taking if everyone’s healthy? Will it create unhappiness for Luis Rojas to manage?
Will Friday go down as the Mets’ catapult to greater things or their ultimate obstacle? We can’t possibly know, for the Mets gave neither themselves nor their observers a clean solution to a troubling problem.