What About Dom?
Mets General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen has been quite vocal in his support of Peter Alonso, and you can understand why with the season Alonso just had last year. However, with the way the Collective Bargaining Agreement is structured, it makes little sense having Alonso on the Opening Day roster.
As we saw back in 2015, the Cubs played Mike Olt for six games to start the season. After he hit .133/.188/.333, Olt was put on the disabled list with a fracture. Three days later, Kris Bryant was added to the Major League roster as was long anticipated. By working it this way, the Cubs gained an extra year of control. As a result, Bryant will be a free agent after the 2021 and not the 2020 season.
That decision did not prevent the Cubs from winning 97 games in 2015, and it certainly did nothing to prevent the Cubs from winning the 2016 World Series. That is an important consideration for the Mets with respect to Alonso.
When you break it down, it would be irresponsible for the Mets to put Alonso on the Opening Day roster. If Alonso is as great as the Mets believe, you want an extra year of control over him. As a result, despite assertions to the contrary, it is very possible the Mets keep Alonso in the minors to start the season.
Now, the Mets have built their roster to allow that decision. By signing Jed Lowrie, the Mets could go with Lowrie at third and Todd Frazier at first base. The team could also opt for T.J. Rivera, who was the first baseman for Puerto Rico in the last World Baseball Classic. Going deeper, J.D. Davis has played first base. The team has wanted to make Travis d’Arnaud more versatile, so maybe they can hide him at first base as he works to strengthen his throwing arm post Tommy John.
Then, there is former first round pick Dominic Smith.
Smith has not received a true shot in the majors. He was called up later than Amed Rosario in 2016, and he struggled mightily. While Rosario did as well, the Mets only brought in competition for Smith, which based upon his 2016 performance was fair game. Smith then all but handed over the first base job to Adrian Gonzalez by being late to the first Spring Training game, a game he was slated to start, and then he was injured.
What is interesting is what happened after that. Gonzalez was released, and the Mets opted to go with Wilmer Flores at first base all summer long while making Smith an outfielder. The Mets did this even when the Mets were well out of the race.
Now, this is a problem this current regime inherited much like how Alonso wasn’t called up last year and now have to consider whether to forego another year of control. If the plan is to hold back Alonso for a couple of weeks, that means Smith will have a chance to compete for a position on the Opening Day roster.
If you’re going to open up a competition for first base, even if it is for the first base position over the first few weeks, that means Smith has a chance. The question which ensues is what happens if Smith outplays everyone in Spring Training, including Alonso. What if he reports to Spring Training in shape? What if he is stronger and now able to hit the ball with more authority?
What if Smith claims the Opening Day first base job? Better yet, let’s assume he gets the chance. What happens if he hits and plays good defense at first? What do the Mets do if they are winning early in the season with Smith being part of the equation? Do the Mets stick with Smith, or do they turn around and give the first base job to Alonso the first chance they get?
Right now, the narrative is Alonso is better than Smith; that Smith is a bust. Lost in that is Smith is younger, and he has taken his lumps. He has the chance to learn what he has to do. Much like how he kept the weight off last season, we may see a more mature Smith who has taken the next step forward to become a productive Major League player.
It does not make sense to overlook Smith. He is still young, and he still has potential. For all we know, he may still yet prove to be better than Alonso. It’s also true Alonso is the better player. At this point, it is all theory, and since it is theory, no possibilities should be discounted. That includes allowing Smith the opportunity to outplay Alonso and win the first base job not just in 2019 but in the ensuing seasons.
If the Mets are truly doing the right thing, they should let each player get a real shot at first base. That means Smith and Alonso. It also means Frazier and the rest of the roster. Ultimately, you win the division by sending out your best players. Today, the Mets think that’s Alonso, and that’s fine. The real trick is having an open mind to pivot from that decision if Alonso struggles or someone else proves themselves.