It was roughly two years ago that Dominic Smith was considered the top first base prospect in all of the minor leagues. As the Mets' second-best prospect, according to MLB.com, he was touted as their future long-term first baseman.
Pete Alonso had a different plan in mind.
In less than a few months, the 24-year-old Alonso hit his way past Smith on the depth chart, flying up the ladder between Double and Triple A and debuting with the Mets this past Opening Day.
A few months later, he is the second rookie in franchise history to hit at least 20 home runs, he's the second player in franchise history to reach 20 home runs in 60 games, he may appear in MLB's Home Run Derby and certainly will be be a finalist for Rookie of the Year.
Meanwhile, though the 23-year-old Smith is batting .360/.455/.587 with nine extra base hits and just 17 strikeouts in 75 at bats, he's playing out of position, often used as defensive sub, and sitting on the bench many days hoping for playing time.
"He will be a target, but I don't see him being a fit for a potential playoff team," a front office executive with a contending NL team told me. "I'd expect the Mets to see more interest from teams that are rebuilding and needing a young first baseman."
"I realize he's getting time in left field, but he's not going to hit for enough power or be strong enough with the glove for another team to seriously consider him there," the source concluded. "He's a first baseman and that's how teams will value him."
In this scenario, the insider speculated, the Reds, Rangers, Royals, Marlins, Mariners, Blue Jays and Tigers might be a good fit for Smith, who has proven to be patient at the plate and capable of being a Gold Glove fielder one day.
This past winter, a talent agent told me the Red Sox, Twins, D-backs, Rockies and Orioles all expressed at least some desire to add a first baseman.
The Rockies in particular are said by insiders to be looking for a player like Smith, who would make for a good lottery ticket and potential stop-gap while waiting for two first base prospects to elevate through their system. In fact, by the time their first base prospects are expected be ready for action, Smith would be entering salary arbitration.
In regards to the Reds, 1B Joey Votto has a full no-trade clause and is guaranteed to be under contract through 2023, at which point he'll be 38 years old. In 2023, Smith will be 28 years old, but in his final year of arbitration and readying to be a free agent in six months. So, I'm not sure the young Dom will be on Cincinnati's radar this summer.
The fact is, Smith is not the typical, modern-day first baseman. He is more 1988 than 2018 and better fits a team that values contact and putting the ball in play.
In other words, the Royals feel to me like a perfect fit, assuming they have someone to trade who the Mets can use beyond this season.
In early May, after Smith was optioned to Triple-A, MLB.com's Mark Feinsand speculated that a rebuilding team like the Royals could be a partner for the Mets, who could try to leverage Smith for a veteran pitcher, such as Ian Kennedy.
I don't see this deal (or another deal like it) making any sense for the Mets even if the Royals were willing to pay down some of the $30 million due to Kennedy through 2020.
"Most every organization, especially American League teams in a true fight for the postseason, they have plenty of options when it comes to bench players that can handle first base," an assistant GM with an AL team explained to me. "So, if a team trades for him, it will be because they see him as an everyday player and not a bench player or in-between type guy."
The above quote is why I see Brodie Van Wagenen and his front office looking to deal Smith for a similarly young and still-developing arm on a team that is rich in pitching.
Interestingly, if it's a young arm Van Wagenen is seeking, the Marlins are probably the best fit for Smith. Miami has young pitching to trade, but are lacking impact, proven position players. They also have nothing on the current roster or on the horizon at first base. Meanwhile, the Mets need pitching in the rotation, bullpen and for depth and options at Triple- and Double-A.
On the hand other hand, Smith might have more value to the Mets than in trade, especially if he can handle other positions. It's fun to imagine Alonso playing 155 games and belting 50 home runs every season for the next 15 years. The reality, though, is that Alonso is just 64 games in to his big league career. And while I realize they have been an unbelievable 64 games, it's still just 64 games and anything remains possible. I believe Alonso's talent can overcome any struggle to adjust that he will face during his career, but that doesn't mean he is not susceptible to distraction, fame or a major injury.
According to roughly 2,500 voters in polls run by me on Instagram and Twitter, 65 percent of respondents said, "Yes," the time to move Smith is now, especially if it can upgrade the current pitching staff. These polls were run in early May and I'd be willing to bet the numbers are more in favor of dealing Smith today than they were before.
However, our opinion doesn't matter. It only matters that Van Wagenen is offered valuable talent able to contribute more than just the next season or two. If that happens, I expect he makes the deal. If such a trade doesn't appear, I see Van Wagenen rolling the dice on Smith continuing to hit, remaining positive and increasing his value in the eyes of interested teams.