MILWAUKEE — Javy Báez slept in his own bed Thursday night for the first time since July.
“It felt amazing,” he said. “Chicago’s always going to be home for me.”
But one of the most popular and successful Cubs in recent history can’t go home again. Not to Wrigley Field, not in a Cubs uniform again.
And the longer he spoke during a conversation with NBC Sports Chicago in the visitors dugout in Milwaukee on Friday afternoon, the more the Mets’ new second baseman seemed to know that.
Maybe even embrace it.
Because if anything, Báez has found himself clearly and profoundly in a New York state of mind since landing alongside close friend Francisco Lindor after the Cubs sent him to the Mets as part of the trade-deadline purge of their championship core.
“When I was in Chicago I never thought I was going to get traded. I never was planning on being with another organization,” said the two-time All-Star and 2018 MVP runner-up. “And after I came here, things have been different, but at the same time good.
“I feel like I kind of needed this to know a little bit more of myself and work a little bit harder.”
That’s not about not working hard enough as a Cub, he said. Anybody who watched him perform in the postseason, play through injuries and improve as a hitter through his career knows that much.
It’s more about an added edge, maybe motivation, with the sudden change to a new clubhouse — and especially the day-to-day contact with the hard-driving Lindor.
And despite a highly publicized flap last month involving a thumbs-down gesture in response to Mets fans booing the team, Báez sounds like a guy who wants to play for those same fans, put roots down in New York and create his own East Coast version of Bryzzo with Lindor.
“They were special. They were really close,” Báez said of former teammates Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo — also shipped out in deadline deals less than five years after they all teamed up for the most celebrated World Series championship in baseball history.
“I think me and Lindor are closer than KB and Rizzo,” Báez said. “It’s a really special thing here. … I would love to stay here and play with him.”
Lindáez? Báezdor? Javisco?
Might not have quite the same marketing-quality ring to it.
But when he and Lindor are at second and short, there might not be a better middle infield in the majors.
“There’s not one,” he said.
“And we haven’t been playing really well as a middle infield; we can do much better,” Báez added. “But we’ve been here like two months. If it’s going to be a whole year, or 10 years. we obviously are going to get those adjustments to click and be [in sync].”
Ten years? That’s the length of the $341 million contract extension Lindor signed as the season began — and that starts next year.
Báez, 28, said he’s “relaxed” as he considers free agency this winter and that he knows he’ll have “many options” — part of his calm emotions a result of having experienced the sudden trade that jettisoned him from the only organization he had known since being drafted ninth overall in 2011 (one spot behind Lindor’s selection by Cleveland).
And as much as he “loved” playing in Chicago for adoring Wrigley Field fans, New York always has pulled at his heart, with family there and connections that date back to his mom moving the family from Puerto Rico to the United States when he was in school.
“I obviously don’t like the traffic. I don’t like the cold,” he said. “but if they make the offer, and they make it happen, I would love to stay in New York.”
Báez said he has already bonded with players beyond Lindor, said that his new team reminds him of the hunger the Cubs had before winning the 2016 championship.
“This team wants to win as bad as we did in ’16,” he said. “I promise you, they’re going to win. They’re going to win soon, whether I’m here or I’m not.”
Báez said he’s met new owner Steve Cohen, the richest owner in the league, and calls him a “great guy.” but nobody’s talked to him about returning as a free agent — “not yet,” he said.
Well, almost nobody.
“Obviously, Frankie wants me to stay,” Báez said. “He wants to make sure they make an offer if it’s possible, and see what happens in the offseason.”
He said Lindor’s even been lobbying the big guy to keep his friend.
Of course, the Mets don’t even have a general manager right now after Jared Porter was fired over a sexual harassment scandal and acting GM Zack Scott was placed on administrative leave this month after a DUI arrest.
And who knows? Cubs president Jed Hoyer said he’s leaving the “door open” for possible reunions with Báez or any of the other departed core guys, although sources say he has no intent of pursuing any of them. And Báez doesn’t seem to necessarily think that’s the case, either.
“Depends on their plan,” he said. “Right now I think they have to rebuild and restart to a new system and new players.”
Báez also didn’t know what to make of Hoyer’s public comments after the trades that seemed to blame the players for not accepting extension offers — comments he walked back later that week.
“This is the first I heard about that,” said Báez, who was close to a long-term extension when the pandemic shut down the game with two weeks left in spring training last year.
“I don’t know which way to see it,” he said. “I think it’s just part of the business. We obviously wanted to stay at that moment in Chicago.”
That moment seems long lost and faded as Báez talks with new life in a bright orange Mets workout shirt.
For now, the National League’s 2020 Gold Glove shortstop said he’s content to play second with a shortstop the caliber of Lindor on the other side of the bag — for as long as they might be able to make that happen.
And he credits Lindor with a big assist in raising his game since the trade.
“It kind of pumped me up, the way he works and the way I work,” Báez said. “When we mix it, it makes us better. … The motivation of him working every day, every day, every day is really impressive. And I love it.”
And he’s raking.
Without ailing ace Jacob deGrom, the Mets have fallen out of postseason contention the last month or so.
But since returning from a 10-day stint on the injured list with back spasms — and that little thumbs-down issue — Báez has been the Mets’ best player.
A seventh-inning single in Milwaukee Friday night extended his career-high streak of reaching base to 17 games — 36-for-105 (.343) with seven homers and an OPS north of 1.000 in 29 games since the IL.
And this: Nine walks in his last 13 games. He had 15 in 92 games for the Cubs before the trade — seven all of last year’s 60-game season.
“Javy’s been special,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said, ratting off a long list of things he’s done on the field and bases in addition to hitting that left new teammates in “awe” since the trade.
“It’s unfortunate that we haven’t taken advantage to the fullest of his presence,” Rojas said. “There’s not as lot of players like this in the game. And now that his approach has gotten better, it’s even scarier to think how his future looks.
“It’s going to be an interesting free agency for him.”
One that results in a long-term home in New York?
“I think everyone in the room thinks that this team is going to be better with him in the future,” Rojas said. “But there are other people that are probably going to have to make those decisions, including Javy.”
That part might already be a done deal, if the right offer is there and he gets a chance to keep together the “Javisco” dynamic that Rojas said has been an influence on teammates on and off the field.
The fans even seem to be liking him these days, Báez said.
“I think a lot of people took it the wrong way,” Báez said of the gesture that he’s used on occasion for years among teammates in opposing ballparks — but this time crossed the line only in support of teammates he thought were getting targeted and pressing because of it.
How do the fans like him now?
“Obviously they like me — I hope they like me.”
He smiles at that.
And it all hits home.
“Chicago’s going to always be special,” he said.
But New York seems like home. And he’s happy where he is right now.