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Why The Mets Made A Mistake By Letting Javier Báez Walk In Free Agency

Find out why the Mets made a mistake by not retaining Javier Báez.

It's not just about the cost acquisition of giving up 2020 first-round draft pick Pete Crow-Armstrong in order to land Javier Báez before last season's trade deadline. 

Crow-Armstrong is a promising young prospect, who the Mets were forced to deal to the Cubs to acquire Báez. And this trade didn't end well for the Mets, as they fell out of postseason contention afterwards and Báez wound up being nothing more than a rental player. 

But that's not even the worst of it. After Báez turned down the Mets' $125 million offer in free agency to go to the Detroit Tigers on a five-year, $140 million deal, it left New York with a major hole in both the middle of their lineup and at second base.

Ideally, the Mets would've re-signed Báez, who is good friends with shortstop Francisco Lindor, and this duo could have remained as flashy, double play partners for the foreseeable future in Queens. 

Instead, the Mets lost out on retaining Báez, who was the best fit defensively and an impact bat in the middle of the order. Now, they will be stuck scrambling to find a Plan B option to complete their lineup in 2022. 

And out of the remaining targets on the free agent market, Kris Bryant is one of the few realistic candidates to help fill this void in the Mets' infield. That is because Trevor Story, who is projected to be a long-term second baseman, rejected the Rockies' qualifying offer, so the Mets would have to surrender a draft pick to sign him. This is something that the front office has previously asserted that they are unwilling to do. 

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This leaves Bryant, who plays third base and all three outfield spots, as the next best fit. But signing Bryant would likely push Eduardo Escobar over to second, despite his preference of playing third. And if the Mets hang onto Jeff McNeil, who is currently projected to be their starting second baseman next season, Bryant could find himself in a corner outfield spot. However, the middle infield combination between McNeil and Lindor was rocky last season to say the least, which could be one of the reasons why McNeil is expected to be placed on the trading block once the work stoppage ends. 

Bryant, who is a client of super agent Scott Boras, is unlikely to be cheaper than Báez. Bryant is said to be seeking a contract hovering around seven-years, $175 million, per MLB Network. And as a result of the Mets' reluctance to match Báez's offer by going another $15 million, they could wind up costing themselves an additional $50 million in the long-run if they decide to meet Bryant's initial asking price. 

Another path that could see Bryant sign with the Mets is if they can strike a deal on a five-year, $125 million contract, thus allocating the funds that they were willing to give Báez. But this might involve waiting out Bryant's market, which is a risk, considering the flurry of moves that are expected to occur once the lockout concludes. 

In the end, the Mets could have made things easier on themselves by simply matching Detroit's offer to Báez. 

The 29-year-old proved to be the Mets' best player in his 47 games with the team following the trade deadline. In 167 at-bats, Báez slashed .299/.371/.515/.886 with nine home runs and 22 RBIs with the Mets, and made an impact on the base-paths with his speed as well. Báez showed improved plate discipline, regardless of his reputation as a wild swinger. And he was also electrifying in the field as a Gold Glove caliber second baseman. 

Now, the Mets will have their work cut out for them after the lockout, by setting out to find another big bat to solidify their lineup as an offensive juggernaut. But the simpler route would've been to just lock down Báez on a long-term deal due to his fit both offensively and defensively, as opposed to the other remaining big target free agent position players that are still out there.  

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