John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
First things first: I wouldn't trade Dominic Smith.
I love his bat and he's looking surprisingly comfortable in left field, to the point where I don't think he'd be a liability even as an everyday player in that spot.
The conundrum for the Mets, however, is that as he continues to play well, Smith is establishing trade value that might be too tempting to resist.
After all, here's something you couldn't have envisioned a few months ago: come the off-season, the Mets almost certainly could get more in return by dealing Smith than Michael Conforto.
That's partly due to finances, with Conforto's salary climbing as an arbitration-eligible player who is only two seasons away from free agency, while Smith will make close to minimum salary for two more years and doesn't reach free agency until after the 2024 season.
But it's also partly due to Smith's emergence as a difference-maker with the bat, a pure hitter who has gone back to what made him the 11th player taken in the in the 2013 draft, spraying the ball to all fields while still thumping the ball for enough power to be dangerous, as he was Wednesday when he delivered a game-changing home run in a win against the Twins.
"Oh, there's no doubt Smith would bring back more than Conforto," an executive of an NL East team told me Wednesday. "(Contractual) control is a big part of it, but our scouts think Smith will be a more consistent hitter. You can make the case that Conforto still has a higher ceiling, but he hasn't shown that he can perform at a high level with any real sustainability, and he's relatively deep into his career now.
"Smith is just a really solid hitter with decent pop, and he gives you some versatility because he's an above-average first baseman who looks like he can a play an adequate left field."
So while Smith seems to be forcing his way into the big-picture outlook for the Mets, he looms as their most valuable trade chip among position players they'd at least consider dealing, which means anyone not named Pete Alonso or Jeff McNeil.
And for a team that is going to be looking for ways to acquire top-notch starting pitching for next season, that is going to lead to some significant internal debate, at the very least.
Much depends on how the second half unfolds, as the Mets need to get some clarity about the makeup of their depth chart going into next season:
Does Amed Rosario become a realistic option as a center fielder?
Does Jed Lowrie come back to play enough to be factored in for next season, or should the Mets plan on moving McNeil back to the infield, making him the everyday third baseman?
Does Conforto have a big-enough second half to convince the Mets to lock him up as he moves toward free agency?
Does Brandon Nimmo return from his neck injury and re-establish the value he built in 2018, as opposed to his disappointing 43 games this season?
All of those questions could figure into how Brodie Van Wagenen sees next season shaping up, especially in the outfield. And beyond that, there will be the question of whether Yoenis Cespedes will be back in 2020, though at this point the Mets would be foolish to count on him.
In short, a lot could happen before the Mets are forced to make a decision about Smith. They wouldn't get enough of a return to consider moving him before the July 31st trade deadline, but the off-season is quite a different story.
At the moment I get a sense from asking around that the the Mets would be more likely to cash in on his trade value than play him out of position for the next several years.
There's some logic in that argument, to be sure, especially if they believe in Nimmo as an everyday player, because he's probably not going to have much trade value.
Personally, I'm not sold on Nimmo as more than a fourth outfielder. Maybe the neck injury was part of it, but he looked awfully vulnerable this season as pitchers attacked him with fastballs inside. He hit only .200 with a .323 slugging percentage in 161 plate appearances, while racking up 48 strikeouts.
As for Smith, he needs to prove he can produce over a full season, but over 170 plate appearances he's hitting .294 with an impressive .536 slugging percentage and .912 OPS. And he looks comfortable against lefthanded pitching, hitting .308, albeit in only 29 plate appearances.
Perhaps the toughest call for the Mets goes back to where I started: considering the outfield is likely to be overcrowded again, especially if there's no spot for McNeil in the infield, maybe it makes more sense to trade Conforto, come the winter, especially with a potential contract battle looming with his agent, Scott Boras.
Theoretically that would give the Mets more money to spend on pitching. And as much as everyone loves Conforto's swing, myself included, his tendency to slump for weeks at a time is becoming part of his profile.
In any case, at least for now it seems Smith could be the better option, either as a trade chip or as a keeper. Personally, I'd keep him.