Off to a scorching start this season, seemingly everything is coming up Mets in 2022. They are getting above-average offensive contributions from almost every spot in the batting order, combined with great performances from nearly every starting pitcher. Outside of a few bullpen collapses and the recent injury to Max Scherzer, everything seems to be breaking right, except for the DH position. Coming out of spring training, the plan was to use a combination of Robinson Cano, Dom Smith, and J.D. Davis, all of whom demonstrated elite performance at some point in the last few years. However, nearly two months into the season none of the three has claimed the job.
Robinson Cano, initially the front runner, struggled so mightily that he was released by the team earlier this month. J.D. Davis, for his part, has not won the job either, currently holding a below-average 98 OPS+, buoyed by a recent 4 for 5 performance in San Francisco. Smith, though, has been notably worse, with a 65 OPS+ and uncharacteristically feeble .272 slugging percentage. Davis has also demonstrated more potential with superior peripheral stats, for instance, a 13.5% barrel percentage compared to Smith"s 3.3%. With the rest of the offense firing on all cylinders, could Smith be next up on the chopping block?
After a slow start to his career, Smith broke out with a 132 OPS+ in a part-time role for the 2019 Mets. He built on that success astonishingly well with a 168 OPS+ in 2020, even garnering some down-ballot MVP votes. This success over about 400 plate appearances landed Smith a starting role on the 2021 team, but like many others on that team, his production dropped off a cliff.
The former top prospect would manage just an 84 OPS+ over almost 500 PAs last season. As a result, he was reduced to a part-time bench role on the 2022 team. Even as other 2021 disappointments found themselves, like Jeff McNeil, Smith has so far been unable to return to form over almost 100 plate appearances.
To make things worse, Smith has now been rumored to be unhappy with his role on the team. Allegedly, he has expressed that he wants to play somewhere he can be a full-time contributor, but unfortunately, he simply hasn"t earned that role on a competing team.
The real problem for Smith and the Mets lies in the team"s roster construction. As Smith continues to struggle, his time on the roster may be slowly ticking away. The Mets have run with a four-man bench this year, even as many teams limit it to three players in order to better stock their bullpen. This would appear to be, at least in part, due to the desire to keep giving Davis and Smith opportunities to find their former success.
One of these spots is required for a backup catcher, and the Mets have found a lot of use in giving a spot to a speedy fourth outfielder. Travis Jankowski has proven useful as a pinch-runner, defensive replacement, and occasional starter so far; and even with his recent injury, the Mets have similar players waiting in the wings, like AAA outfielder Nick Plummer. Luis Guillorme has also seemingly locked up his job as backup infielder, even beating out Smith and Davis for playing time on occasion. At current, that leaves Smith and Davis to alternate between DH and bench spots.
With the Mets getting contributions from 1-7 in the order each night, they will almost certainly look to bring in a new DH bat at the trade deadline. Given their current lineup construction, they would be best served to add a lefty as well. Any offensive addition would force the Mets to choose between Smith and Davis, similar to the choice of Smith versus Cano when rosters condensed a few weeks ago.
Options, Options, Options
Should the Mets be forced to drop Smith, what are their choices? First, they could grant Smith his wish and package him in a trade to a non-contending team. Smith would be able to find consistent playing time, and the Mets could perhaps land a rental reliever in exchange. The downside here is that the team would be selling low on the first baseman, but on the other hand, his value may continue to decline if they hold onto him.
The second option is just that, optioning Smith back to the minor leagues. The clear upside is that the Mets would retain Smith"s services, and the regular starts may help him find his swing again. Conversely, Smith may become further dispirited and lose all value to the club. No matter the Mets" internal decision making, if Smith cannot find more success over the next two months his days in Queens may be numbered.
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