Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Dom Smith carved a decent niche for himself so far this season -- part left-handed bench threat, part dugout caffeine. But the Mets did the right thing Friday when they optioned Smith to Triple-A to make roster room for shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria.
Here's why: Smith needs to play every day and that won't happen on the Mets, where Pete Alonso owns first base. But if Smith goes to Syracuse and thrives as a starter, he can maximize his value.
Not only to the Mets, but for the sake of his own career.
If Smith soars in Syracuse, maybe the Mets can swap the former first-round pick for a relief pitcher, once the standings sort into contenders and rebuilders a little later in the season. The Mets would get a bullpen arm they desperately need already -- Jeurys Familia is on the Injured List and the Mets were ranked 28th in the Majors in bullpen ERA (5.37) entering Friday night's game in Milwaukee.
And Smith perhaps finds a real chance for a regular job.
The 23-year-old didn't thrive in his first two tastes of the league, coming up in 2017 and 2018 and struggling in small samples. But he's had a nice renaissance this season, and not just because of the obvious bond he and Alonso share as well as Smith's lively bench persona.
The numbers are better this year -- Smith's slash line is .333/.459/.400 in 37 plate appearances over 29 games. But Alonso is an offensive force at first and better-than-advertised on defense. There's nowhere in the clogged outfield to steal at-bats for Smith, either. Jeff McNeil certainly isn't sitting.
One scout who recently followed the Mets said he was not surprised that Smith was demoted, adding, "All he really did was pinch-hit. He was the odd man out. But, in all honesty, he really deserved a chance to play a bit because he showed it in spring training.
"When you're an everyday player, it's hard to come off the bench like that. His swing was a little bigger as a pinch-hitter sometimes, like he was trying to hit two home runs for every at-bat, and you can't do that."
Still, the scout added, "The kid can swing the bat, given a chance, and he can play first base. Dom Smith just doesn't have a spot. Alonso is a difference-maker and if the Mets need to rest him, they can use Todd Frazier or J.D. Davis there.
"Sometimes you get squeezed. He's getting squeezed, through no fault of his own."
The Mets obviously concluded that having Hechavarria's glove off the bench was more valuable than Smith's lefty bat. Plus, according to the New York Post, there was the added pressure of a contract deadline - had Hechavarria not been added to the roster by Friday, he could've become a free agent.
Still, Hechavarria counts as a defensive asset and he was batting .348 at Syracuse. The Mets included this nugget in the press release announcing Hechavarria's promotion: "According to FanGraphs, his 26 defensive runs saved over the past five seasons (2015-2019) rank sixth among all shortstops."
In addition to shortstop, Hechavarria can play second and third, giving Mickey Callaway ample opportunities to double-switch him into games. He can also give Amed Rosario some days off.
Without Smith, the Mets don't have a dedicated left-handed pinch-hitter, unless one of their lefties is not in the starting lineup. But it's hard to argue adding defense to a team that has not thrived with the glove so far - the Mets have made 27 errors, most in the National League and only Seattle (38) and the White Sox (28) have made more.
Just like it's hard to argue with adding relief. "They absolutely need a relief pitcher," the scout said.
Maybe swapping Smith for bullpen help is a more palatable solution to the Mets than signing Craig Kimbrel and re-working the relief pecking order. Adding bullpen depth would also give the Mets the potential option of deploying Seth Lugo as a starter if the rotation needs help, though the starters have thrived recently, recording a 1.83 ERA the last turn through the rotation. Over the previous three games going into Friday night, Mets starters had a 0.42 ERA.
Now it's Smith's turn to thrive, even if it's not the environment he'd envision. But if he stars in Syracuse, maybe he gets a starting spot somewhere else and the Mets get the reliever they need.