The club’s big trade deadline prize arrived in Queens less than 24 hours after being distributed by the Cubs and jumped straight into the Mets playoff chase, cleaning up the stick and playing the shortstop on his Citi Field debut against the Reds.
Dressed in a bright orange Mets jersey, Baez trained at batting early on Saturday afternoon to familiarize himself with his new home and was eager to embrace the big stage.
“It’s just my way of playing,” Baez said. “I play the same way and I’m the same guy every day. I try to bring that energy to the team, to the clubhouse. There’s not much to say, I just have to be me, go out there and compete and play hard.
“I know New York has big fans. I saw him on the other side. Hope they are really excited to have me because I’m really excited to help the team and bring my energy here.
Baez will play primarily shortstop until his longtime friend Francisco Lindor returns from his oblique injury – potentially by mid-August – at which time he could move into the infield. This should include a heavy dose of second baseman, with manager Luis Rojas calling Lindor and Baez’s idea “mind-blowing”.
It remains to be seen if this will turn into a double-play tandem for years to come with the Mets. Lindor signed a 10-year extension on the eve of opening day, after being traded to the Indians in the offseason, but Baez is currently set to become a free agent after this season.
“We’ll see how it all goes,” Baez said of his interest in playing for the Mets beyond the next two months. “I’m obviously trying to get to know other guys and be as close as possible, to learn from guys and see what’s going on. … I know we’re in first place and hopefully we get to the bottom of the playoffs and see what happens next year.
Although Baez will have to wait a few more weeks to play alongside Lindor, his enthusiasm has hardly been altered. The duo started playing against each other as children in their native Puerto Rico, then again as high schoolers in Florida before eventually being picked eighth (Lindor) and ninth (Baez) in the draft. MLB 2011. They stayed close and were in frequent contact on Friday as the exchange – which also sent pitcher Trevor Williams to the Mets for prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong – declined.
“I’m super excited. I couldn’t be happier, ”Lindor said. “I’m going to play alongside a good friend of mine, a great person, a great baseball player and someone who will help us win. … I can’t wait for him to come here and put on a show for everyone.
In 91 games this season for the Cubs, Baez was hitting .248 with 108 OPS-plus, 22 homers, 13 interceptions, 15 walks and 131 strikeouts at the top of the league. He had also suffered a recent heel injury, but Rojas said Baez had described it as ‘nagging’ instead of being injured.
Baez said leaving Chicago was emotional – especially being part of the core that was traded this week, with Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant – after setting up the organization and winning a World Series in 2016. But he also said that ‘he was ready to move on and help his new team pursue another championship in New York.
“Very impressed with his behavior,” Rojas said. “All he’s talking about is winning, so he’s a perfect fit with our mindset. We’re all very excited he’s here.