(Audacy) The 2021 Mets will be remembered for collapsing down the stretch, but when the trade deadline rolled around, they were buyers.
The Mets swung a trade that July to acquire infielder Javier Baez from the Cubs while sending outfield prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong to the Chicago as part of the ultimately ill-fated deal. Baez largely held up his end of the bargain, hitting .299 with nine homers and a .886 OPS in 47 games with the Mets — though he did irk the fan base along the way.
But with the Mets missing the postseason in 2021 and Baez then signing a long-term deal with the Tigers when he hit free agency in the ensuing offseason, the trade retrospectively can only be looked at as a disaster in New York. Because on the other side of the swap, Crow-Armstrong has since become one of the top prospects in baseball.
Then-Mets general manager Zack Scott reflected on the trade this week during an appearance on Audacy’s Baseball Isn’t Boring podcast.
“If you look at it at the time, (Crow-Armstrong) was, I want to say publicly ranked he was probably our fifth-best prospect by the publications that do that," Scott said. "I would say that was pretty consistent with how we viewed him internally. We liked the player, we loved the person, the work ethic. We loved the defense. I think we had questions about how the bat was going to evolve.
“We had a farm system that was pretty top-heavy, didn't have a lot of interest in the middle tier, which is usually where you want to trade from to make deals. We couldn’t really get any traction there, and we had a four-game lead on the division, which is hard to remember because things kind of fell apart fairly quickly for the team the last couple months.
“I felt like a four-game lead, we have to be buyers, so I was having a lot conversations about different players, especially with the Cubs, they were selling a lot of players, so we talked a lot. At one point, there was probably a seven-player deal we were talking about that would have filled several needs of the team.”
Part of what sank the Mets that season was the loss of ace Jacob deGrom, who didn’t make a start after July 7 due to elbow inflammation.
When deadline day rolled around, a foreboding update on deGrom came across Scott’s desk.
“One interesting dynamic that happened on deadline day was I got a bad report on the health of Jake deGrom," Scott said. "That didn’t stop us, I didn’t look at it as we have to give up on the season – the Rangers lost Jake deGrom and ended up winning the World Series – you don’t give up on a season when something like that happens. You still have a four-game lead. It wasn’t clear that he was going to miss the rest of the season, but I knew there was some chance of that, so it wasn’t great.
“I kind of pivoted a little bit away from the all-in type deals and thought (Baez) is a player who fits us really well, (Francisco) Lindor had some health stuff, we’d had some challenges on the infield, (Baez) could play anywhere. The makeup was positive, especially if he’s in a place where you’re trying to compete. People thought he'd thrive in the spotlight of New York, which he ended up doing.”
At the time of the trade, Crow-Armstrong was a 19-year-old who had only played as high as Single-A. He really took off and ascended the minor league ranks upon landing in the Cubs organization, debuting in the big leagues this past September.
Scott knew he was taking a risk moving Crow-Armstrong but ultimately chalked it up as the cost of doing business.
“We did the deal knowing any time you’re doing a rental deal, you kind of know it’s a negative long-term," Scott said. "You’re giving up a prospect, even if at the time Pete Crow-Armstrong wasn’t a top-100 prospect. He was a good prospect, we liked him, but at the time I think some publications viewed it as fair given what we were getting in return, as fair as it could be. I would have viewed it as slightly negative long-term.
“To Pete Crow-Armstrong’s credit, and somewhat to the Cubs’ player development, he has, I would estimate, tripled his value since then.“