Mets 1B Dominic Smith has gone from top prospect to major-league question in less than 18 months.
Entering 2017, the then-21-year-old Smith was ranked the organization's second-best prospect and the top first base prospect in baseball, according to MLB.com.
However, the emergence of Pete Alonso in Triple-A in 2018 pushed aside Smith, who ended that season hitting just .224/.255/.420 while striking out in 23 percent of his at-bats. With Smith having struggled and Alonso having surged, Smith was asked to learn left field before the 2019 season.
In the shadow of Alonso's record-breaking rookie debut, Smith spent 2019 struggling to find playing time, moving from the bench to left field to the IL. However, he excelled despite the limited playing time.
In 177 sporadic at-bats, he managed to hit .282/.355/.525 with and 21 extra-base hits, all while reducing his rate of strikeouts and increasing his percentage of walks.
There is no question that Alonso is GM Brodie Van Wagenen's first baseman of the future. And in the outfield, the Mets have Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, Jeff McNeil, J.D. Davis and -- don't forget -- Yoenis Cespedes.
Smith, meanwhile, has shown he can be a big-league player worthy of a 25-man roster spot. Is there room for him with the Mets, though? And if not, how much is he worth to another organization in trade?
Teams will be intrigued by Smith because he comes with nearly zero risk and skyscraper upside. He can field first base, hit, is a wonderful teammate, just 24 years old, earning the league minimum the next two seasons, and under team control through 2024.
The determining factor in Smith's fate may rest entirely on the number of teams needing to add a first baseman and how the cost in talent to acquire him compares to their less-exciting, but cheap choices on the free agent market.
Based on rumors and reports around July's trade deadline, I still see the Royals, Marlins and Reds as the best fits for Smith.
The Reds are known to be looking for a young, team-controlled first baseman to bat behind Joey Votto, who is 36 years old, has $100 million due to him and coming off the worst season of his career.
If Van Wagenen is seeking a young pitcher, he could turn to the Marlins, who have plenty of arms and are are lacking young position players, including at first base.
"The problem is that most organizations, especially American League teams, they all have guys that can be bench players and if needed can also handle first base," an assistant for an AL team told me this past summer.
"To trade a player like Smith in the offseason, a team has to value him as an everyday player," the source continued. "No one is trading for a bench player to take up space on their roster before Spring Training when they can sign a free agent to a minor league deal."
He has a point.
Last offseason, Daniel Murphy and Marwin Gonzalez were the only free agent first basemen to ink a multi-year contract and both deals were for only two years. Everyone else, including Justin Bour and Wilmer Flores, all signed one-year deals and none were worth more than $6 million. In addition, Pedro Alvarez, Lucas Duda and Logan Morrison each had to settle for minor-league contracts.
This winter, the free agent market for first basemen is expected to include Jose Abreu, Matt Adams, Mitch Moreland and Justin Smoak, among others -- not to mention players from other positions that also have time spent at first base.
The point is, the league is not short on inexpensive first basemen.
To make matters worse for Van Wagenen, teams with genuine interest in Smith will use all of the above to reduce the young first baseman's trade value.
This is why, in the end, I suspect Smith will end up being more valuable on the Mets than he is to other teams.
Therefore, Van Wagenen should work early this winter on dealing Smith. If it doesn't pan out, he can begin planning for Smith to be on next year's roster and continuing to serve as a much-needed, left-handed bat off the bench, backup to Alonso and fill-in corner outfielder.
He can then revisit Smith's trade value next summer.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!