After an offseason full of additions, the Mets have built up quite a deep roster, particularly on the offensive side of things. With the signings of Starling Marte, Eduardo Escobar, and Mark Canha, former starters like Dom Smith and J.D. Davis have been pushed to the bench. Last season made it all too clear that you can’t have too much depth — and the more players there are on the depth chart between the top and “starting second baseman Wilfredo Tovar,” the better. There is a lot to like about the way the roster is shaping up but there may be one crucial flaw that can hopefully be resolved before opening day.
Assuming no more additions, the team should lineup something like this on opening day:
With this setup, the Mets would have a four-man bench, projected as follows by Fangraphs:
Each of these four is more than capable of filling in for an injured starter and has a much higher offensive ceiling than many depth pieces the Mets have carried in the past. Here’s the problem though: this group lacks a true backup outfielder.
Tomas Nido is an essential part of this group, playing backup to James McCann. Guillorme is similarly a necessity with no one else capable of backing up at shortstop. On the other hand, both Smith and Davis are offense-first players without a true defensive position. Smith plays a solid first base, but Alonso will occupy it for much of the year, and any of Canha, Escobar, or Cano could fill in if needed. Davis, while he has played 1B, 3B, LF, and RF, is exceptionally bad at each of them, and is best served as a DH primarily.
With Robinson Cano getting most of the early season reps at DH, Davis could operate in a platoon, taking over against left-handed pitching. Smith, on the other hand, appears to have very little to do on this team outside of the occasional pinch-hitting appearance. Moreover, Davis has proved his offensive ability over the past three seasons, while Smith has only been productive across a 400 PA sample from 2019 to 2020.
In this case, it appears the team would be much better served replacing Smith with a traditional outfielder.
In terms of in-house solutions, the Mets have a few reliable options, including AAA prospects Khalil Lee and Nick Plummer, or recent minor-league signing Travis Jankowski. Each of these three fits the bill of a speedy, left-handed outfielder, capable of playing an average or better center field.
At this point, there are very few potential upgrades available on the free-agent market. The only substantive upgrade lies in former Met Michael Conforto. While it’s a bit of a pipe dream, his market has been rumored to be fairly lackluster after his poor 2021 performance. There remains the possibility that Conforto and GM Billy Eppler can find common ground on a one-year deal in the range of 15-20 million dollars. Conforto could rotate around the outfield, potentially moving into a DH role if Cano struggles. He would also provide additional insurance for Brandon Nimmo, a truly elite corner outfielder who has been plagued by injuries in his early career.
What about Dom Smith? If the team decides the opening day roster would be more balanced without him, he still has two minor league options remaining. However, at this point in his career, Smith is deserving of major league playing time. His name has been connected to several trades this offseason, at one point rumored to be part of the return to the Athletics in the Chris Bassitt trade. Beyond outfield depth, the sole remaining area of need in 2022 is the bullpen. The Mets could still look to swap Smith in a trade for a reliever. At the top end of this market is Brewers’ closer Josh Hader, though that appears unlikely. Among teams actively selling whatever they can, there is Lou Trivino of the A’s or several relievers on the Reds.
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