Let’s start with a small point of view. Yes, Javier Baez did a really stupid thing and said a pretty stupid (but honest!) Thing this weekend. It was not in capital letters, however.
Baez and some of his new teammates were upset that Mets fans booed the players during their month of August from Hell; the Mets are 8-19 this month and have seen a division lead they’ve held since early May evaporate into the sky over Queens. Now they are very unlikely to make the playoffs. So Baez and a few teammates – that was Baez’s idea, as reported by the New York Daily News – started giving fans a dramatic thumbs-down gesture when they had success on the pitch. .
The thinking process, it seems: if the fans are going to boo the players when the players fail, the players will boo the fans when the players succeed. It’s convoluted at best. It’s a stupid idea. I don’t know what the end game was here. Baez and his teammates have received a lot of deserved criticism since Baez explained the gesture after the Mets’ victory on Sunday.
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But, point of view. Baez has not broken any written baseball rules or city, state, or country laws. He didn’t do anything from afar like the horrible things that kept Marcel Ozuna or Trevor Bauer off the pitch. He did not fail a PED test. Heck, he didn’t even put a sticky substance on the baseball.
Looking ahead, however, it seems reasonable to think that Baez isn’t exactly increasing his value in the free agent market, and this looming free agency date is the reason he’s in New York now. The Cubs and Baez reportedly had talks about an extension but couldn’t come to a deal, so Chicago traded him to New York before the July 30 trade deadline. Oh, and the extension Baez would have turned down? In April, ESPN’s Buster Olney wrote this:
“But one problem for Javier Baez is that his poor performance in the 20 followed a negotiation that ended with him passing up an offer from the Cubs of around $ 180 million.”
He would have refused 180 million dollars. Whoops.
As of the start of the 2020 season, Baez has a .228 / .269 .436 slash line, 89 OPS + (an average league player scores 100) and 3.9 bWAR. He has 34 homers and 96 RBIs in those 167 games, but also has 228 strikeouts against just 25 walks and 141 hits. He’s hitting 0.210 with a base percentage of 0.258 in his 17 games with the Mets (who are 6-11 when playing).
Combine his stellar seasons of 2018 and 2019, which led to that $ 180 million bid, and Baez produced a .286 / .321 / .544 slash line, with a 123 OPS and a 6.5 average. bWAR. He was second in the NL MVP vote in 2018 and an All-Star both years.
So his production is on the decline as he approaches his free agent year, and now, after just 17 games with his new franchise, he’s leading what is essentially a revolt against the fanbase? It is not the actual action of putting the thumb down, but the way he reacted to an unfavorable situation in a new place.
Yikes and double yikes.
But, again, point of view. Baseball teams have long handed players contracts with a sort of check mark in the negative column. If he’s a guy under contract or under the control of a club, he’s a bump in the road but not a roadblock. It’s far from a ‘cut it now’ problem. Baez is not a bad person. He apologized on Tuesday.
– Javier Baez (@ javy23baez) August 31, 2021
But, regardless, no one is going to blame the Mets if they remove him from their potential free agent shopping list, given that that was his reaction the first time he faced a bit of adversity, after less than a month in front of New York fans. And if the Mets don’t want him back, at all costs, what does that say to other teams who might be looking for a shortstop (or second baseman) during the ‘offseason?
And here’s the other thing: This just might be the worst year possible for a 29-year-old shortstop who just came out a few years later to enter the free agent market. First of all, there are the impending union negotiations. The collective agreement between the MLB and the MLB Players Association expires on December 1 and negotiations promise to be controversial. It has been 27 years since there has been a work stoppage, and it is not impossible that this streak will end. If nothing else, you are sure to hear stop threats, from one side or the other.
And then there’s this: It’ll be an absurdly good offseason for teams looking to add a free agent shortstop to their rosters: five All-Star-caliber shortstops will be available, including Baez. And, of course, Baez is young – he will enter his 29-year-old season in 2022 – but he’s not alone. Trevor Story will also be in his 29-year-old season (he’s about two weeks older than Baez). Carlos Correa will enter his season at 27 and Corey Seager will enter his season at 28. Only Marcus Semien is significantly older than Baez, entering his season at 31, but he’s preparing for a massive season for the Blue Jays in 2021 and is set to land a lucrative contract, albeit with fewer years than Correa, Seager or Story.
Let’s do a comparison. Here are the numbers for those five shortstops over the past five seasons.
|Shortstop||Games||AVG / OBP / SLG||TIME||SB||OPS +||bGUERRE|
|Baez||610||.267 / .306 / .500||120||58||109||19.6|
|Correa||471||.276 / .357 / .482||85||6||127||20.9|
|Seager||421||.284 / .357 / .481||64||7||122||12.3|
|Semien||588||.262 / .336 / .456||97||53||115||21.1|
|Story||620||.272 / .340 / .514||123||89||110||20.6|
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Baez has been durable, which is a point in his spine, and he’s got power and speed. But he has long had trouble settling down on base – even when he was at his best, in 2018 his percentage on base was 0.321 – and seeing Baez react that way to the pressure of a new one. situation is not exactly the sort of thing that requires an owner or some type of front office to hand out a huge contract.
When you are competing against very strong competition for free agent dollars, the last thing you want to do is give potential future employers a reason to take a break. With his struggles over the past two seasons, he was already way beyond Correa and Seager, let alone Semien as well (many teams would prefer a four-year high AAV contract to a longer-term one). Like Baez, Story also experienced an underperformance in 2021. Now you add that little piece to the equation?
Baez is not hitting a deal for $ 180 million this offseason. He almost certainly won’t get $ 100 million. He might – given the combination of plaque struggles and that incident in New York – even better to sign a one-year contract somewhere to restore his worth, then try again the next offseason, when he enters his season. 30 years old.
That’s what Semien did after struggling in the shortened 2020 season with the As, and his performance in Toronto dramatically increased his value as a free agent. If Baez wants to land a multi-year contract somewhere, he will find one. However, the total money won’t be about what the Cubs would have offered once.
Because here’s the thing. Yeah, the nudge down was stupid. But it’s not something that a little image revamp – and a year of playing as an All-Star, of which he is certainly capable – could erase from the minds of front-office decision-makers across sports. .