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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Javy Day

The Mets went out at the trade deadline and did something about the hole they considered perilous in their middle infield, acquiring somebody with both a stellar defensive background and a world championship pedigree, a player with a fairly unique offensive profile. He has only a couple of months left on his existing contract, so it’s not a huge commitment. The question is whether this deal will be enough to counteract the moves the Braves and the Phillies made as the Mets attempt to fend off their closest pursuers for the division lead.

But enough about the Mets getting Luis Castillo on July 30, 2007. This is about the Mets getting Javier Baez on July 30, 2021.

History isn’t exactly repeating itself despite some passing resemblance between the Mets’ decision to land second baseman Castillo — who earned a World Series ring with the 2003 Marlins; was voted three Gold Gloves; and led the National League in stolen bases twice — and Baez, essential keystone component for the champion 2016 Cubs, NL RBI king in 2018 and someone who’s the darling of the Defensive Runs Saved set. They’re actually substantially different players, but the circumstances that bring us the high-profile personality from Puerto Rico by way of Chicago aren’t wholly dissimilar from what was going on in these parts fourteen summers ago and how it led to the introverted Dominican infielder who’d been stranded in Minnesota coming to Flushing.

Castillo was a rental, grabbed at the ’07 deadline to fill the gap at second base left by an injury to Jose Valentin. His defense, despite a certain later notorious incident that occurred in a borough that shall remain nameless, remained airtight. Somewhere out there is a clip of Luis and Jose Reyes turning one of the sweetest double plays in creation in the middle of that August, when Castillo was still settling into the idea of playing in New York let alone next to a firecracker like Reyes. Despite the counterintuitive Big Apple casting, Castillo filled his role in the pennant race production reasonably adequately, hitting .296 and stealing 10 bases in 50 games while generally picking up ground balls and nobody noticing how many hands he used on popups. He didn’t show much power, but that was never his forte.

It wasn’t particularly Castillo’s fault the Mets didn’t fend off the Phillies, who’d fortified themselves at the 2007 deadline with starting pitcher Kyle Lohse. Shaking hands and saying goodbye to 32-year-old Luis might have been the best course of action following that star-collapsed September, but Omar Minaya truly enjoyed securing the services of veteran second basemen beyond the most useful portions of their careers (re-signing 37-year-old Valentin following 2006 speaks to that inclination). Castillo received a four-year contract that covered 2008 through 2011. The final year was bought out by Minaya’s successor.

Anyway, the Mets went out and grabbed Javy Baez from the Cubs right before the deadline on Friday. They sort of needed him because they’ve been vamping at shortstop ever since Francisco Lindor went down with an oblique injury following the All-Star break. Lindor’s injury is still an issue. That’s how obliques work. We keep seeing clips of Francisco furiously working out hours before home games, but it doesn’t bring him any closer to activation. “Week-to-week” is how Luis Rojas has termed his status, technically seven times longer than day-to-day.

Hence, Javier Baez, unquestionably the best available middle infielder on the market as the trade deadline burned fast and furious, is a Met. The Cubs, no longer contenders and therefore no longer interested in harboring stars who can walk away at season’s end, couldn’t detach themselves from their players swiftly enough. Javy fell from the North Side and into our laps, alongside righty Trevor Williams, in exchange for our top 2020 draft choice Pete Crow-Armstrong. Young Pete never got to play much minor league ball, first because there was no minor league ball in 2020 and then because he hurt his shoulder in 2021. I’d looked forward to his development based on whatever charisma he displayed the night he was selected. The attachment, however, never grew beyond the larval stage.

I saw Williams pitch well against the Mets once, in 2019, and somebody I trust told me he’s a good guy, so I was probably a little more excited that we’d gained an additional arm ancillary to Baez. Then I looked at his ERA (5.06 this year; 6.18 last year; 5.38 the year I saw him pitch well against the Mets once) and understood why he’s been initially assigned to Syracuse. Still, good guy, I’m told.

Baez is an exciting proposition. How can he not be? Any non-Met who’s succeeded wildly elsewhere shimmers with possibility. We only see them hit big homers — he’s belted as many as 34 round-trippers in a season and is up to 22 already this year — and make great catches and executive produce incredible highlights. Baez also has shallow spots in his skill set; try not to dwell on his paucity of walks or his surfeit of strikeouts if you wish to maintain your enthusiasm. Also, try to forget that he’s not a reliable starting pitcher, which was something that would have been nice to have added when we thought we’d be without Jacob deGrom a little longer and seemed a lot more imperative to have added when we learned we’ll be without Jacob deGrom more than a little longer. Our ace’s recovery has been paused for a couple of weeks due to forearm inflammation, and our August will thus be Jakeless.

Of course we did add a high-caliber pitcher on Friday in Carlos Carrasco. It’s the old “…like adding a piece at the deadline” equation that says if you’re bringing up somebody from the minors or getting somebody off the IL around the end of July, you don’t necessarily have to make a trade to fill a need. Carrasco certainly fills a need, but we probably needed more than just Carrasco to fill out the rotation, worst-case scenario vis-à-vis Jake or otherwise. We did get Rich Hill when nobody was looking like a week ago and we were blessed with Tylor Megill from out of the blue barely more than a month ago, but it doesn’t feel like enough. With starting pitching, it never feels like enough.

Still, Carrasco, almost forgotten for four months while his hamstring healed despite his having been Lindor’s significant trade companion in January’s blockbuster transaction, came out of the blue and into the black — sharp throwback jerseys and caps, provided they’re not worn to excess — on Friday night, taking the mound to face the Reds. His first pitch as a Met, to Jonathan India, landed somewhere on another subcontinent. Then Carlos settled in and gave up no more runs over four innings, a very encouraging sign. The Mets lineup seemed electrified in the bottom of the first from dressing as Mike Piazza once did. They were hitting, they were reaching base, they were scoring an entire run. Then they stopped. Black, sadly, is the new void, a hue the Mets can be as offensively futile in as they’ve too often been in orange, blue, what have you. The eventual final was Reds 6 Mets 2. Clad in any color, that’s not gonna get it done.

The good news, which can’t be counted on to replicate indefinitely, is the Phillies (3½ GB) and the Braves (4 GB) both lost, preserving the Mets’ distance from the NL East pack. The Phillies got themselves a solid starter at the deadline in Kyle Gibson, former Ranger. The Braves added, among others, Adam Duvall for their distressed outfield and Richard Rodriguez to shore up their already effective (based on what we experienced) bullpen. Why, it’s as if the first-place Mets haven’t clinched anything!

On Friday, Luis Guillorme at short and Jeff McNeil at second indicated middle-infield defense, even without Lindor around, isn’t much of a Met problem. But the best middle infielder available was within reach, ergo here arrives Baez, taking over shortstop in the interim and then shifting to second base when (hopefully not if) his very close friend Francisco comes back with full flexibility. McNeil and probably J.D. Davis will also have to show their own kind of flexibility by then. Javy has played both of his positions plenty and played them well. He says he’s more than willing to shift around if it means playing in the company of Lindor, and he comes off as very much a New York-ready guy. Despite the callback made above, getting Baez is a bigger deal than getting Castillo ever was. Two-time All-Star Baez might be nice to have on board after 2021 as well, but that’s a commitment that would also be a bigger deal than the one offered Castillo. Just as “too soon” might be your reaction to any mention of Luis Castillo in this space, “too soon” also applies to anything about Javy Baez for more than the short term.

Is Javier Baez going to help us stay in first and go far in October? I sincerely believe he couldn’t hurt.

8 comments to Javy Day

  • Greg Mitchell

    Needed pitching much, much more. Of course, a top starter but also we heard about dozens of decent to good relievers available and we got ….none? Mets bullpen, despite media hype, is mediocre at best. Another 5 runs in 6 innings last night. Once-bright hope Drew Smith now serves up a dinger every appearance. And reminder: Banda and Y. Diaz still in pen.

    Another reminder: as recently as last year, Baez hit… .203, with OBP of .232. This year, OBP up to a whopping .292. And headed for 220 Ks.

  • Seth

    I didn’t initially mind the black, although last night didn’t do it much justice. It matches the color of the hole they’re slowly digging for themselves.

  • greensleeves

    How on earth do you take Conforto’s remarkable assist and convert that to two consecutive, listless and dispiriting losses?
    Do you hear the Philly/Brave footsteps behind you? If you do, you’re not paranoid.
    Can the memory of Luis Castillo’s dropped pop fly ever be wiped from our ancient motherboards?
    Can we avoid the ‘trouble with the curve’ label up and down this lineup?
    Can key offenders stop fishing and remember patience is a strategy for men on base?
    Can we take this Reds series and regain some bloody momentum?
    Is Javy the Second Coming or merely the latest in a series of late July arrivals seeking to fill the mighty cleats of Yoenis?
    Inquiring Met fans want to know. Soon. Tick..tick…tick.

  • Eric

    Matt Harvey has flipped a switch his last 3 starts. I wanted the Mets to bring him home before the bad-to-worse news on deGrom. I’m somewhat surprised no trade deadline buyer took a cheap chance on him.

    Stroman, Carrasco, Walker, Hill, and Megill are just enough to fill out a rotation. But even assuming they each take their turn like clockwork for the remaining 60 games and doubleheaders are minimized, they can be counted on to go 5 innings only except maybe Stroman. Walker needs to find his 2nd wind ASAP. Who knows if or when Megill will hit a rookie wall.

    I’ll wait and see on Baez because I’m leery of his league-leadings Ks and low OBP and I’m a fan of Guillorme’s comparable defense and better OBP. If Baez drives home runs at a regular clip, then he’ll be worth it.

    I wonder what Pete Crow-Armstrong’s trade value was, as in did Baez come cheap in exchange for a damaged asset or did the 60-game rental cost a legitimately elite young prospect?

    Compared to the contenders including the Mets’ NLE rivals who added handfuls of players, the Mets didn’t add much at the trade deadline, less than they needed. I wonder if the update on deGrom cut short the Mets from spending more assets to buy more help than Baez.

    Once again, the Mets did not play like a division leader. Yet there they are. I expect the Braves and Phillies, who clearly believe the NLE’s 1 playoff ticket is up for grabs, to pick up the pace once they integrate their trade deadline additions.

    Conforto hit well in a 60 game season last year. Maybe he’ll finish strong in the remaining 60 games of this season.

  • I want to be so much more excited about this team and for that matter Javy Baez than I am, but this is starting to feel very much like 2007. Oh boy.

    • mikeL

      ours is the era of slow motion and in plain sight (see lead-up and wind-down of election 2020)
      the mets are doing 2007 as a season-long slow motion collapse.

      like watching paint dry it’s hard to take it in all at once – but still painful in the snippets we take in day to day.

      yes greensleeves: tonite’s win was a nice comeback (if in great part via cincy failings) but yes this team has so little offensive momentum, so little spirit.
      i wish the mets had packaged conforto with a decent prospect for a more decent starter. (yes, bringing harvey back would have been good for team mojo in my opinion)

      drury has shown he’s clutch can hit into the gaps…and it would have been nice to get *something* in exchange for conforto’s abysmal final season in a mets uniform. without the waiver this season the mets are stuck with him and will need to play him lest he become bad for the clubhouse.

      props to diaz for taking matters into his own hands.
      and refreshing to see a new mets star SS *not* take months to display offensive prowess.
      may he keep it going…halt the slide

  • Eric

    As far as the black uniforms, they’re okay by me. Some of my all-time favorite Mets — including Olerud, Ordonez, and Alfonzo — wore the black uniform.

    What’s striking is that the best Mets teams that wore the black uniform were elite offenses for real, unlike this season’s paper tiger.

  • Cleon Jones

    Our offense sucks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!