On December 24th, Mike Puma of the New York Post reported that the Mets are expected by others in the game to trade at least one of Jeff McNeil and Dominic Smith this winter. While they once seemed like future stalwarts of the Mets’ young position player core, down seasons have taken the shine off of both of them. If Smith is truly on the trade block, he could be a possibility for the Yankees to consider as a potential player at first base, especially if they have already decided to move on from Luke Voit there.
However, it is undeniable that Smith has struggled for much of his major league career since his debut in 2017. According to FanGraphs, Smith has had a WAR below 1.0 every season except the shortened 2020, in which his 1.8 mark was suggestive to some as his breakout season. In 50 games, Smith slashed a very impressive .316/.377/.616. Those numbers were buoyed by a very high .386 BABIP though, so expecting that from Smith going forward would almost certainly be a mistake.
In fact, his 2021 season was pretty ugly, as he finished 145 games with a -0.5 fWAR. His walk rate was very low at 6.5 percent, and he didn’t even compensate with high power, only slugging .363 with 11 home runs. And with Pete Alonso firmly entrenched as the Mets’ first baseman, he had to play in the outfield most of the time with ugly results. His role on the 2022 team is unclear, though he seems like his could be a possibility at DH (assuming the National League adopts it after the lockout as expected) should he show some better results in Spring Training.
So who is Smith actually? He has never really been a home run hitter — 11 is his career high. He does not run with speed. His defensive work, both at first and in the left field, is bad, although his Outs Above Average marks suggest he’s much closer to passable at first. That would be better for the Yankees, as their outfield is full enough as it is, as it stands now.
In his successful 2019 and 2020 seasons, Smith made a mark for himself with his low strikeout rates — his 112 strikeouts in 2021 is eye-popping, considering his previous season-high was 49 in his debut season. For whatever reason, Smith couldn’t help himself from chasing pitches this season.
One potential culprit is injuries — last season, Smith was reported to have dealt with a knee contusion, and a “nagging” wrist issue. Then-Mets hitting coach Hugh Quattlebaum said it was so bad at certain points that Smith was unable to take batting practice. Obviously, such a thing could affect a hitter’s timing. Baseball Savant notes that Smith’s percentage of balls barreled dropped a whopping 6.8 percent from 2020 to 2021, another sign perhaps of poor timing. If the wrist is the culprit, and it heals properly in the offseason, that would make him a viable bounce-back candidate in 2022.
Smith at his best has had to rely on his bat to get on base, as his walk percentage has always hovered a little less than 10 percent. In 2019 and 2020, that meant a lot of hard contact leading to doubles. A hitter like that would probably help the Yankees’ lineup, especially if he doesn’t sell out for power — though as a left-handed hitter, his home run numbers would probably go up while playing in Yankee Stadium.
If the Mets are truly ready to give up on Smith and are willing to part with him for a lower-grade prospect, I think it’d be worth a chance to see if he could recapture the form that made him a finalist for the 2020 Hank Aaron Award. His short track record of success means he would absolutely have to earn any major playing time, however. His ceiling his high, but his ability to reach it is in doubt.