At the end of the regular season, both the Mets and Javier Baez saw a chance for a quick deal, perhaps even before the beginning of free agency. Baez bought into Steve Cohen’s vision for the Mets, and Cohen liked Baez personally.
Even Sandy Alderson, who values on-base percentage above just about any other metric, was intrigued by Baez’s improvements last summer in that regard, though cautious about how much to trust them. Alderson also understood the entertainment value that Baez brought.
The Mets ended up spending October open to signing Baez but focused on their search for a general manager -- and a brief but intense effort to lure manager Bob Melvin from Oakland (Melvin ended up taking the job in San Diego a day before he was supposed to fly east to have lunch with Cohen).
Ultimately, the Mets determined that they wanted to find a leader of baseball operations before making major acquisitions. Baez’s camp knew there would be interest in him around the league.
On Thursday, Nov. 11, Baez’s agent at Wasserman, Nick Chanock, met with the Mets contingent at the general managers’ meetings in Carlsbad, Calif., and the team signalled that it was still interested.
In the weekend that followed, Cohen and Alderson interviewed Billy Eppler and offered him the GM job.
As Eppler got to work, he worked on the pursuit of free agents Starling Marte, Mark Canha, Eduardo Escobar, Jon Gray and others. For the sake of continuity, Alderson ran point talking to Baez’s camp because he had begun the discussions.
On parallel tracks, Cohen negotiated with Max Scherzer and pitcher Kevin Gausman -- both the agents and the players themselves -- with assistance from Eppler and Alderson.
Early in talks with Baez, Alderson floated a proposal for $125 million. The Mets were prepared to move quickly on a deal at that number, but Baez’s camp knew that other teams had interest. (This proved a wise move, as Baez later found an additional $15 million on the open market. Have you ever walked away from $15 million? I have not).
The sides were approximately $50 million apart at that point, but remained open to bridging the gap.
As Thanksgiving approached, the Mets kept an open line with Baez, but the dynamic shifted last Friday evening, when the team agreed to terms with center fielder Starling Marte. Combined with Wednesday’s deals for Canha and Escobar, the Mets felt essentially set on position players and ready to begin the season with Jeff McNeil at second base.
In effect, the Mets were out on Baez at that point, barring a dramatic change of events.
The weekend brought a focus on pitching, with an aggressive play for Gausman and a record-setting deal for Scherzer.
The Mets were open to trading McNeil -- they still are -- and circling back to Baez if he didn’t find a deal elsewhere. But the Tigers were always in, and the Mets no longer felt in position to spend the $140 million that Detroit was offering.
By the time word surfaced on Tuesday morning of Baez’s deal with the Tigers, a reunion with the Mets was an afterthought. After an intense and ultimately productive summer together, both sides went their separate ways in a good place.