WASHINGTON — For the last eight years, Javier Báez has dazzled on the diamond.
Báez earned his “El Mago” nickname with soft hands, a powerful arm, a quick glove, highlight-reel plays and an energizing style of play.
Those days have come to an end in Chicago.
The Cubs dealt the shortstop and starting pitcher Trevor Williams to the New York Mets a little more than an hour before Friday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline. Before departing Nationals Park to join the Mets, Báez wanted to let Cubs fans know they are loved and appreciated for their dedication to the team with how much the team means to the city.
“I never thought it was going to be this big, and when we won the World Series in 2016, the city was just going crazy and the happiness around it was amazing,” Báez said Friday afternoon. “I didn’t grow up in a big city following teams, so when I saw that here, it was pretty incredible — the love of the fans for all the players, from Hall of Famers to all the rookies and other guys that come back and forth.”
In return, the Cubs received outfield prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong. A first-round selection (19th) in the 2020 draft, Crow-Armstrong, 19, played six games this season with Class A St. Lucie, hitting .417 (10-for-24) with two doubles and four RBIs before suffering a right shoulder injury in May.
The left-handed hitter out of Harvard-Westlake High School in Los Angeles was ranked as MLB Pipeline’s No. 20 prospect heading into the 2020 draft.
The departure of Anthony Rizzo to the New York Yankees the day before, representing the first big departure, was the toughest goodbye for Báez: “I’ve got so much love for Tony and everything he’s done.” Báez’s own future is rooted in New York, for the next two months at least. He already has heard from Mets shortstop and fellow Puerto Rican Francisco Lindor and is excited to play next to him, though it won’t happen immediately. Lindor is currently on the injured list, and Báez said his left heel is still sore.
Inevitably, Báez was questioned about whether there is a chance he could return to the Cubs when he becomes a free agent in the offseason.
“To be honest I would love to, but I don’t know,” Báez said. “I don’t know what will happen this offseason with all these moves and the plan that this organization has. I’m pretty sure this is one of the best (organizations) if not the best one. I’m grateful for everything they’ve done for me and my family.”
Since the Cubs drafted Báez with the ninth pick in the 2011 draft, his raw power has been a staple of his offensive production. While his strikeout totals can be problematic — he leads the National League in the category — Báez still is one of the more entertaining players in baseball. He has been nicked up at times this season, including not starting three games this week because of a sore left heel. But Báez has been one of their most valuable all-around players.
In 91 games this season, Báez is hitting .248 with a .292 on-base percentage, .775 OPS, 108 OPS+ and a team-leading 22 home runs and 65 RBIs. He is a two-time NL All-Star and finished second in the NL MVP voting in 2018. He also won a Gold Glove last season
Báez said there are no hard feelings.
“The communication has been really good between the players and the front office so they talk to us straight up and they tell us what are the chances,” Báez said. “We obviously understand the business side and it happens and hopefully it happened for the better of the organization.”
Williams, 29, departs after signing a one-year, $2.5 million deal with the Cubs in February. After missing six weeks following an appendectomy, Williams made three appearances, including two starts, posting a 4.20 ERA since returning in early July. His last start Sunday against the Arizona Diamondbacks was one of his best of the season. Williams tossed 6⅓ shutout innings and struck out six without walking a batter.
Williams’ departure opens a potential rotation spot for left-hander Justin Steele, who has been building up at Triple-A Iowa to transition from the bullpen into a starting role.
For Friday at least, Jake Arrieta came off the injured list and started in Williams’ scheduled spot. Arrieta’s activation from the IL was part of a plethora of moves the Cubs made before Friday’s series opener against the Washington Nationals. They recalled right-hander Manny Rodriguez, outfielder Johneshwy Fargas and infielder Frank Schwindel from Iowa and selected the contracts of right-hander Michael Rucker and infielder/outfielder Andrew Romine.