Danny Abriano, SNY.tv | Twitter |
With Opening Day just over two weeks away, the Mets are dealing with injuries to two infielders and watching as their two main competitors for the first base job -- Pete Alonso and Dominic Smith -- tear the cover off the ball.
Given the current situation, it's a near-certainty that one of Alonso or Smith will grab the Opening Day job, but the intrigue doesn't stop there -- not with both of them being so young (Smith is 23 years old, Alonso is 24) and full of promise.
Both Alonso and Smith have proven their worth in the minors, and with them appearing to be in prime position to make a big league impact, how will the Mets handle it now and in the future?
Analyzing the short-term considerations
Jeff McNeil is expected to shift to third base to open the season with Jed Lowrie and/or Todd Frazier out, and the Mets can't justify handing first base to J.D. Davis when they have Alonso and Smith staring them in the face.
With Alonso, there is the question of whether the service time manipulation issue is a factor. GM Brodie Van Wagenen has suggested more than once that it won't be -- that the Mets are focused on contending in 2019 and that it means taking the best 25 players north from the get-go.
If the above is true, it means the team is comfortable giving up an extra year of team control in order to have Alonso on the team for the first few weeks of the season.
When it comes to Smith, there is the question of whether his Spring Training performance is a mirage. He has struggled in his tastes of the majors the last two seasons, but he did slug .420 in 56 games last season. He is also in great shape and has solved a sleep apnea issue -- and feels refreshed because of it.
The Mets could always carry the right-handed hitting Alonso and the left-handed hitting Smith.
Smith said earlier this week that he's willing to play left field if it means breaking camp with the team. Very short-term, that could work, with Smith getting time in left field and sliding in at first base against tougher right-handers. But once Frazier or Lowrie returns, McNeil is expected to shift back to left field, which would make carrying Smith as a first baseman/left fielder less than ideal.
Analyzing the long-term considerations
Looking toward 2020 and beyond, the Mets could conceivably use Smith as a full-time outfielder. But it's fair to wonder whether he'll have enough power to profile for a regular outfield role and/or whether his defense will be good enough.
That could be an issue for Smith when it comes to his Mets future, since it seems Alonso is the better fit at first base for two reasons -- his power and the fact that he would be the main right-handed threat in a lineup that is expected to remain lefty-heavy for the foreseeable future.
In a perfect world, the Mets hang on to Smith, Alonso blossoms this season, and the NL adds the DH for the 2020 season. If that happens, they would have the option of sliding Alonso to DH and using Smith at first base.
Hovering over all of this is the presence of Yoenis Cespedes, whose future is cloudy but is under contract at a hefty sum through the 2020 season. If Cespedes returns this season and is healthy in 2020, he will likely be the Mets' left fielder or potential DH.
What has gotten lost a bit in this debate is that while Alonso and Smith are both deserving, one of them (Alonso) is simply a better fit as far as what the Mets need right now.
Going with Alonso out of the gate would mean surrendering a year of team control. And while it would fly in the face of conventional wisdom and go against what virtually every team does (and what many, includng this writer, have suggested they should do), it's almost impossible to envision them not giving Alonso the first base job for Opening Day and the chance to stay there for years.
As others have noted, if Alonso is the player the Mets think he'll be, they'll probably want to sign him to an extension before he hits arbitration anyway -- making all the service time talk moot.
When it comes to Smith's future, he could still have one with the Mets. But if he goes to Triple-A to begin the season and performs there nearly as well as he has during Spring Training, he might be more valuable as a trade chip.