As the Mets‘ offense as a whole underwhelmed in 2021, there were lots of players who had down seasons.
Michael Conforto struggled badly in his walk year, turning what would’ve likely been a payday in excess of $100 million into a situation where he might have to take a one-year prove-it deal or a two-to-three year deal worth far less than he and agent Scott Boras were targeting before the season.
Jeff McNeil had the worst season of his young career after playing like a star for his first three seasons.
James McCann regressed in his first season in New York after excelling with the Chicago White Sox in 2019 and 2020.
That’s because Conforto is about to hit free agency, McNeil’s season seems likely to have been an aberration, and McCann (with three years left on his contract) is very likely going nowhere.
For Smith, the future could be much less certain.
While Smith is under team control through the 2024 season (he is arbitration-eligible the next three years), it’s becoming harder to pinpoint exactly what the Mets should do with him.
Asked to play out of position in left field, Smith has given it his all there. But his defense in left has been exposed, and he cannot be relied on to be anything close to a full-time player in the outfield.
And with Smith not yet putting together a full season where he had an above average offensive performance, it’s fair to wonder whether now is the time for the Mets to move on.
In fairness to Smith, it’s not his fault that the 2020 season was shortened because of the pandemic. And his 2020 — where he slashed .316/.377/.616 — is one of the main arguments for keeping him in the fold.
Meanwhile, when it comes to the future of Smith with the Mets, lots of it will likely have to do with whether or not the National League adds the DH in 2022.
So, should the Mets keep Smith or trade him?
WHY IT COULD MAKE SENSE FOR SMITH TO GO
On the surface, Smith’s numbers in 2021 were quite bad.
In 493 plate appearances over 145 games, he hit .244/.304/.363 with 11 homers and 20 doubles.
A look at Smith’s advanced numbers tell an even uglier story.
Smith was near the bottom of the league in chase rate and walk rate, well below average in barrel percentage and whiff rate, and below average in average exit velocity, xwOBA, strikeout rate, hard hit rate, and xSLG.
It should also come as no surprise that Smith’s defensive metrics per OAA (Outs Above Average) had him in the bottom two percent of the league.
In the event the NL adds the DH before the 2022 season, the Mets would have the option of using Smith at his natural position of first base and making Pete Alonso the main DH.
But it should be noted that Alonso is on record as having no desire to become a full-time DH. And as one of the Mets’ cornerstone players — and someone who has worked hard on his defense and was above average at first base in 2021 — it’s hard to make an argument that the Mets should displace Alonso for Smith.
The above, combined with Smith’s poor outfield defense, means that if he is with the Mets, the only spot that really makes sense for him is DH. And Smith might not fit, even if the NL adds it.
The Mets have Robinson Cano under contract for the next two seasons at $48 million total, still have J.D. Davis under team control, and have two prospects (Mark Vientos and Brett Baty) who could soon arrive and be DH options.
WHY IT COULD MAKE SENSE FOR SMITH TO STAY
After struggling in 2017 and 2018 during his first two seasons in the majors, Smith showed signs of not only being a very good offensive player, but a potential star.
In 139 games across 2019 and 2020, Smith slashed .299/.366/.571 (150 OPS+) with 21 homers and 31 doubles.
Smith is also still relatively inexpensive (he’s projected to earn $4 million in 2022) and is under team control through the 2024 season.
When you take into account Smith’s left-handedness and what he did in 2019 and 2020, an easy argument can be made that if the Mets are choosing between keeping Smith and Davis that Smith is the one to keep.
There’s also the fact that while Cano will be back on the Mets’ books, he has earned absolutely nothing after missing the entire 2021 season following his second PED-related suspension.
Could Cano, who just turned 39 years old, profile at DH at this stage of his career and excel there? Sure.
But there’s no reason to expect that Cano will be who he was in 2020 (when he might have been chemically-enhanced during the season), and no reason for him to be penciled in at DH (again, in the event the NL even adds it).
And while Vientos and Baty were mentioned above and could be options at DH, it’s possible that neither makes an impact in 2022.
They could both debut, with Vientos likely closer to the majors, but neither can be relied on as a given for any part of 2022.
The decision on Smith could be one of the tougher calls the Mets make this offseason, especially because the outcome might be determined by the potential addition of the DH — a decision that could come close to the Dec. 1 expiration of the CBA or could drag on well into the winter.
If there is no DH in the NL in 2022, it’s time for the Mets to trade Smith.
If there is a DH, the Mets should keep Smith and give him every opportunity to win the job.
Source: Yahoo Sports