People focusing on Dominic Smith's blunder Monday night that cost the Mets a game are missing the larger issue, which is that he shouldn't be in left field.
I understand that he's a big-league player and it would be nice if he knew the basics of charging on a ball with the shortstop in position to make the play. But, he didn't. Now he knows. But, why is he being charged with learning this situation at all when he's a natural, tried-and-true infielder, who prior to this season had only ever played first base?
In case you missed it, Monday night's game was tied in the top of the 13th inning, with two outs and runners on first and third base. The Giants hit a soft pop up in front of Smith and behind shortstop Amed Rosario.
Instead of Rosario making a routine catch, which he was in position to do, he was banged in to by a jogging Smith, who came in 50 feet to try to make the catch himself. Naturally, the ball dropped and the eventual winning run crossed the plate.
The dropped pop-up matters, no question. And, it's worth debating whether Smith should or shouldn't know what to do just because he's a big leaguer, as Mickey Callaway suggested after the game. However, the way I see it, the problem here isn't Smith's baseball IQ. The problem is the Mets not having enough experienced big-league talent to fill a roster.
The fact is, if the Mets had three, healthy, quality, everyday outfielders to count on, Smith would not be needed in left field. Instead, he'd be in Triple-A learning the position, while figuring out how to re-establish himself in a world where Triple-A star Peter Alonso has passed him on the organizational depth chart.
Unfortunately, the Mets don't have three, quality, healthy, everyday outfielders. Frankly, I can't remember the last time they did have three, quality, healthy, everyday outfielders on the roster.
Instead, they've got Austin Jackson, who's on his third team this season, in center field, all while Michael Conforto is bounced like a ping pong ball between left and right.
Jose Bautista, who is also playing for his third team this season, will often play opposite Conforto, unless of course Bautista is playing third or first base, where he hasn't played on a regular basis since 2010. In the event Bautista is moonlighting on the infield, the Mets now have no choice but to turn to Smith because -- with Brandon Nimmo, Jay Bruce and Yoenis Cespedes all on the disabled list at the same time, and no better options in Triple-A -- the Mets have just three actual outfielders on the entire 25-man roster. Three. That's it. Three positions, three players, one of which now gets time at first base, while a 22-year-old, career first base prospect fills in for him in left field. Read that again so it really sinks in...
It was great having Daniel Murphy's versatility. I wanted the Mets to sign Ben Zobrist for the same reason. I see Wilmer Flores as extra useful because he can play all four spots on the infield and still hit like a like an everyday player.
The point is, I'm all for having guys that can play multiple positions, but to do this well, each player should also have experience and the ability to play the positions they're being asked to play. If they don't, balls get dropped, throws aren't made, poor fielding carries over to poor hitting, all hell breaks loose and lots and lots of games are lost...
In just this season alone, the Mets have had 51 players on their 25-man roster, including seven different players that have handled first base, seven at second base, nine at third base, five at catcher and 13 in the outfield.
In comparison, teams currently in position to reach the postseason have averaged a total of 44 players on their active roster and roughly 30 percent fewer players having appeared at each position.
I realize this reads like nitpicking. But, it isn't. It's a symptom of a larger issue that has been plaguing the Mets the past four years. In those four seasons, during which the team expected to make the playoffs (and did twice), the organization lacked the necessary depth to fight off injuries in a meaningful, productive way. Instead, they resorted to calling up Triple-A players that had no business being in the big leagues or, like this season, using Triple-A and current players in positions they're not used to playing at the big-league level.
This is fine in an emergency. However, to sustain success, such as after starting a season 12-2, the daily grind and randomness of baseball requires consistent, reliable talent to stabilize results. Though it's more difficult to manage, it's absolutely possible to be consistently inconsistent around the field. Just ask Joe Maddon and the 2016 Cubs.
However, Maddon will also tell you it helps when people being moved around the field are more than capable of playing the positions they're being tasked with playing. If the consistent part is guys without a clue being shoe-horned in to roles they're unfamiliar with it, baseball players as a group are going to struggle.
In late July, 2015, Sandy Alderson rectified this by acquiring Yoenis Cespedes, who locked down the outfield in a dominant way. However, Alderson also traded for Kelly Johnson, who played left and right field, as well as shortstop, first, second and third base, while picking up multiple key hits off the bench.
Juan Uribe also joined the Mets the same day as Johnson, after which he too played second and third, as well as provided needed leadership in the clubhouse and on the bench.
Prior to the arrival of the above three men, the team played all sorts of people out of position in an effort to find a string of wins, but instead they went 13-18, while sinking to a game below .500 for a day and dropping from first to second place. Cespedes hit like a monster, which helped propel a 41-24 finish, but do not discount the experience and stability created by Johnson and Uribe.
So lay off Dom, because he's simply a symptom of a larger issue.
To win next season, the Mets have got to get back to having either a steady, every day lineup or at least having a large enough group with experience and talent playing multiple positions to turn to in case of mass injuries. Otherwise, they're going to continue to stumble to sustain success as they scramble or hustle to fill out their lineup card each day.
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!