Mets 1B Dominic Smith is in the best shape of his life. I know, this is one of the most pointless and overused cliches in sports. So, go ahead and roll your eyes. When done, though, understand that Smith actually is in the best shape of his life...
According to NY Post reporter Ken Davidoff, Smith has already lost 30 pounds since the end of last season, which helped him become more compact, lighter on his feet and limber.
"I feel more athletic than I've ever been," Smith told Davidoff. "As an athlete, I feel like this is the most advanced I've been for sure in my career."
In January, the Mets signed 35-year-old 1B Adrian Gonzalez to a one-year deal that will pay him only the league minimum salary. The day the deal was announced, Gonzalez told reporters that he expects to be the team's starting first baseman this season.
"There is somewhat of a defined role as far as starting a certain amount of games," Gonzalez said, adding that he plans to happily serve as a mentor to Smith in St. Lucie.
"I'll work with Dominic on defense, tell him all my experiences," Gonzalez said. "I've always made a point to work with the young kids. ... In spring training, we're going to work a lot and talk a lot."
Gonzalez told MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez last week that he's completely healthy, happy, ready to report and get to work with the Mets in Port St. Lucie.
"I'm excited about the season, and we'll see what happens," he added.
Nevertheless, Smith told Davidoff this week that he has not given up trying to beat out Gonzalez for the starting job at first base.
"I'm definitely ready to still go out and still battle for a spot," he told Davidoff. "I want to show the Mets that I am here and I want to be the future first baseman."
Smith had been considered the organization's top prospect when he was promoted to the big-league roster in August, after which he hit just .198 with a .262 OBP, nine HR and 26 RBI in 49 games.
In October, Sandy Alderson criticized Smith's conditioning and said he did not play well enough in 2017 to earn being this year's starter, though the franchise remained optimistic on Smith's future.
"Dominic's going to have to be careful about his conditioning, certainly in the next few years if not throughout his career," Alderson declared.
The next month, though, after reports indicated the Mets might pursue free-agents Carlos Santana or Eric Hosmer, Alderson told reporters that he would not be making any acquisition that would block Smith's ability to be the stating first baseman in 2018.
"My biggest takeaway is that no one will ever feel sorry for you," Smith told Davidoff about Alderson's comments. "I feel that I matured as a player and I take more ownership. I don't want to blame anybody for what I did last year. I can't blame anybody for the weight gain. It was all me. It was the mistakes I made. ... Now it's time for spring training, and it's time to get ready and start the battle."
I love Smith's dedication to himself and the Mets. He'll always have a terrific attitude and a ton of talent. I'm rooting for him, and very much hoping he exceeds expectations and forces the Mets to make a difficult decision about the Opening Day roster. That said, I have no issue with Alderson's statements and even less of an issue that he signed Gonzalez.
There is nothing wrong with competition, especially against a mentor. It's good for everyone involved, including their teammates.
The way it stands, the buzz since November has been that Smith will likely begin 2018 in Triple-A, while Gonzalez breaks camp and is the big-league team's starting first baseman on Opening Day.
However, unless Gonzalez finds the Fountain of Youth, I expect he'll eventually be designated for assignment in late-Spring, early-Summer and Dom will be the big-league first baseman again before the end of the season.
Gonzalez is just one year removed from having a .784 OPS. And, while there's probably a less than five-percent chance he ever hits at that level again, he doesn't have to win an MVP or even bat .250 to provide meaningful, short-term value to the Mets. So, I expect Alderson will roll with the veteran until Smith forces his hand...
It's also worth noting that Gonzalez struggled against left-handed pitching last season. Meanwhile, Wilmer Flores, who can play first base, crushes lefties, which means he and Gonzalez could result in a decent short-term platoon as Smith gets more work in Vegas.
The real fun, though, will be if Gonzalez struggles and looks old this spring. In that scenario, if Smith is crushing the ball and moving well and looking slim and strong, it's hard to imagine Alderson again slamming a door in Smith's face by demoting him.
Smith has worked hard, hustled, made major changes, and done everything this winter that has been asked of him. To ignore that and send him to Triple-A would be wrong. If Smith overtly outperforms Gonzalez, Alderson has to reward his young first baseman for rising to the challenge -- especially considering Alderson's critical and public comments about Smith a few months ago.
Sandy often mentions "optics," and in a case like the above, the optics would look bad to Smith, as well as every minor-leaguer that is challenged by Alderson to better themselves and their performance.
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. He recently left his position as Executive Editor and Dir. of Digital Content for SNY.TV to help sports brands build their own digital content businesses...