The Mets announced Tuesday that first baseman/outfielder Dominic Smith has been optioned to Triple-A Syracuse. Righty Adonis Medina has been recalled from Triple-A to take his spot on the active roster. Andrew Cohen of Sports Business Journal reported the news before the team announcement (Twitter link).
The demotion to Triple-A is the latest step in a pronounced downturn for Smith, who was one of the better hitters in the National League from 2019-20 when he slashed .299/.366/.571 through 396 trips to the plate. At that point, the former No. 11 overall pick and longtime top prospect looked to have finally solidified himself as a big league regular who could serve as a focal point in the Mets’ lineup for years to come.
The National League didn’t have the luxury of a designated hitter at that point, which complicated things from a playing time vantage point, given that the Mets also had Pete Alonso on the roster. Smith got a look in left field as the Mets hoped to keep both sluggers in the lineup, but through 1240 innings dating back to 2019, he’s posted dismal marks in the eyes of all defensive metrics (-7 Defensive Runs Saved, -8 Ultimate Zone Rating, -15 Outs Above Average).
Had Smith’s bat remained as productive as it was in 2019-20, perhaps the Mets might’ve lived with that poor glovework and given him a full slate of innings in left last year. However, Smith’s downturn at the plate began in 2021, when he slashed just .244/.304/.363 in 493 plate appearances. Smith told reporters this spring that he played through a small tear in his labrum last year (link via SI.com’s Pat Ragazzo), and he’s been been unable to rebound in 2022 while receiving sparse playing time alongside fellow defensively challenged slugger J.D. Davis. Smith has just 101 plate appearances on the year and has turned in a grisly .186/.287/.256 slash.
The Mets reportedly received trade interest on both Smith and Davis over the winter, but even after creating what looked to be an infield/outfield logjam they opted to hold on to both players. Between Alonso, Brandon Nimmo, Jeff McNeil and offseason signees Eduardo Escobar, Mark Canha and Starling Marte, it wasn’t clear just how Smith and/or Davis would fit into the infield/outfield rotation. So far, they really haven’t Smith’s 101 plate appearances speak to his limited use, and Davis has had even fewer plate appearances (90). Those plate appearance tallies haven’t been impacted by injury, either, as neither player has spent time on the IL in 2022.
Perhaps the Mets weren’t keen to sell low on Smith after he’d been such a productive hitter in 2019-20, but his stock has only dropped since the offseason. He’ll be able to get regular at-bats in Triple-A as he hopes to sort through his issues at the plate, and the hope is, of course, that more frequent reps at the plate will help him unlock his potential. Even if Smith rakes in Syracuse, though, he’ll still be looking up at the same crowded roster that led to such infrequent playing time to begin with.
Smith has been asked repeatedly about whether he’d prefer a trade to another team, and to his credit, he’s generally deflected those opportunities to speak out and stir the pot. Asked about the subject just two weeks ago, Smith reiterated his desire to play every day while continuing to speak positively about the Mets (link via Newsday’s Anthony Rieber). “I like where this team is going,” Smith said at the time. “I feel like I can impact this team in a number of ways, and that’s being [in the lineup] every day, in my opinion.” Smith did, however, acknowledge that the opportunity may not come with the Mets.
It’s a fine line for a player to walk, but it’d have been easy for Smith to clamor for a trade, either via interviews with the Mets beat or by more directly requesting a trade form the front office. To this point, neither has happened, though it’s feasible that being sent to Triple-A for the first time since 2018 (excluding a two-game rehab stint in ’19) could finally push him to do so. Then again, given his struggles since that huge showing in 2019-20 might make other teams wary to aggressively pursue a deal. A contending club, for example, isn’t likely to acquire Smith and plug him right into its everyday lineup, but it stands to reason that a rebuilding club might be more willing to do so.
Smith, after all, is controllable through the 2024 season, so he could be a multi-year piece should any team look to acquire him. Being sent to Triple-A won’t impact that timeline, as he entered the 2022 season with three years and 146 days of MLB service, meaning he needed only 26 days of service to reach four-plus years of service time. He’s already done that, so even in the unlikely event that he remained in Triple-A for the remainder of the season season, he’d still have the service time needed to qualify for free agency post-2024.
Optioning Smith to Triple-A should at least ostensibly appears to open some more playing time for the aforementioned Davis, who has top-of-the-scale exit velocity and hard-hit rates, even if the results aren’t there at this point. It could also mean some additional playing time for rookie Nick Plummer, who just surely turned some heads with a 4-for-8, two-homer showing in the Mets’ pair of games on May 29-30. With Canha, Marte and Nimmo all healthy, Plummer will be viewed more as a reserve option for now, but there’ll be some occasional outfield and DH at-bats available to him.