Do the Mets need to acquire a first baseman this winter? Or, do they have enough internal options to make the position work in 2019?
Justin Smoak, Matt Adams, Marwin Gonzalez, and Logan Morrison are expected to be the top first basemen available on the free agent market this winter. It's too early to know if anyone better will be available and more affordable in trade.
That said, the Mets have at least five internal options worth considering, though no one candidate is perfect given the team's need to improve its fielding and power at the plate.
In August, 2017, it was assumed the position would go to 1B prospect Dominic Smith, who made his debut as the game's top prospect at that position. Instead of soaring, he struggled, gained weight, was lectured in public by Sandy Alderson and ended up losing his job to 35-year-old, fading star Adrian Gonzalez for the beginning of the 2018 season.
In early June, as expected, Gonzalez was designated for assignment, after which Smith was immediately called up from Triple-A.
In the 77 games played since last summer, Smith is hitting just .193 with 23 extra base hits, which has people questioning whether he is just another kid in a long line of overhyped prospects.
The thing is, Keith Hernandez was hitting just .257 with only 16 extra base hits through the first 78 games of his career, during which he was also temporarily sent back to Triple-A.
The point is, like Keith, Smith may simply need more big-league time to succeed and fail -- and succeed again -- before his career begins to click.
That said, the clock is ticking, because the team's Triple-A first baseman, Peter Alonso, is crushing home runs and making a name for himself on the farm.
It was obvious during Spring Training when he was mashing the baseball that Alonso, 23, was ready to rattle cages, after which he's hit 21 HR in 91 minor league games this season.
He then hit a monster home run during this past weekend's MLB Futures Game, which is watched by nearly every team's front office, prior to which he won a pre-game BP contest with other top prospects that included him hitting a ball over the left field stands in Nationals Park.
The knock on Alonso is that he's a righty and not very athletic, putting in to question whether he has the tools needed to play first base every day in the big leagues.
Of course, the first base position has changed since the days of Hernandez and Don Mattingly. It's no longer home to slick fielding, graceful, left-handed hitters that do as much on field as they do in the batters box. These days, most of the league's top first basemen have power, hit and throw with their right hands, and are hardly known for their fielding.
In this new MLB environment, it seems like Alonso will fit right in...
Meanwhile, in addition to Smith, the big-league roster also includes Wilmer Flores, Jay Bruce, and Yoenis Cespedes, all of whom can, have, or are willing to play first base.
Cespedes played nine innings at first base during his third and likely final rehab game on Wednesday. He has never played the position in a big-league game during his seven-year career.
Mickey Callaway said this past weekend that Cespedes may return as a DH for the team's series against the Yankees in the Bronx, which begins Friday.
Similar to Cespedes, Bruce is capable of playing first base, where he's done well 14 times for the Mets. However, he clearly prefers to play right field. Frankly, after this most recent bout of lower-body injuries, I'm not convinced he can physically handle the constant activity needed to play the position.
This can probably also be said about Cespedes, who has missed roughly 30 percent of the team's games with leg injuries since he was acquired in 2015.
In case you haven't noticed, given all the stretching, lunging, leaning and quick reactions on balls in the dirt, down the line and in the hole, legs and feet are pretty important when playing first base.
In Flores, the Mets know they have a guy that can hit at least .270, bang 15 home runs and handle a steady diet of starts at first, second and third base over the course of a full season. He's the definition of a 'super utility guy,' but hardly the level bat most teams need at first base when building their roster.
Flores is not making a lot of money and is under contract through next season. He will be attractive in trade to contending teams this July because he also has experience playing in the postseason. However, for the same reason a team might want to trade to get him, I think it's possible the Mets keep him for 2019.
Ideally, the job belongs to Smith or Alonso because they're the best long-term options, especially since each player will be earning the league minimum the next few years.
The thing is, if Smith or Alonso take over first base, at at a time when Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo are in the outfield, what happens to Bruce and Cespedes, both of whom have been injured, are due a lot of money and are essentially untradeable?
This is why it is so important to know if Cespedes can play even part time at first base, because him doing so can create options for the Mets when building for 2019.
If Cespedes can play first base, he can split time there with one of the two kids and/or Flores, freeing up room in the outfield for Nimmo, Conforto, and Bruce. On the other hand, if Cespedes can only play left or right field, which is hardly a guarantee given his health, someone among Nimmo, Conforto and Bruce will be pushed aside. It also means first base is still a need if Alonso or Smith do not step up and own the position.
The most realistic outcome will be Alonso needing more time to adjust, like Smith, all while Cespedes and Bruce continue being obstacles after the free agent market provides no great stopgap solution. If this is how things play out, I expect a carousel of options rotating across first base in 2019, during which all five of the above players might get time at the position.
In an ideal world, though, Alonso is soon promoted and quickly becomes a given. That would allow the Mets to trade Bruce this winter, deal with Cespedes, put Nimmo and Conforto in the outfield, sign a hit-first third baseman, and acquire a legit, Gold Glove-caliber catcher and center fielder. One step at a time, though.
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!