The Mets’ challenge on a Dominic Smith trade

One of the most challenging things for baseball GMS and wannabe GMs is to determine when a sample size is big enough. Justin Turner was nothing special in his years with the Mets and they cut him loose in a salary-related move. And the very next year he was outstanding for the Dodgers. But in his final 42 PA, Turner put up a .929 OS with a .214 ISO. Extremely small sample size but given that his career ISO with the Mets was .105, perhaps they could have considered that something has changed. Of course, no one was talking about that at the time. It’s only because of what Turner did subsequently that the sample looks interesting. And that’s because Turner became an early adopter of the fly ball revolution and the results were just starting to show late in 2013.

Or look at Daniel Murphy. After years of being content to flick the ball the other way for a single, Murphy finally looked to pull the ball with power. We all remember his remarkable run in the playoffs in 2015 but we started to see more evidence of that change in Murphy in August and September that year. Through July 24, Murphy had a .268/.321/.384 line for a .705 OPS and a .116 ISO. But in his last 239 PA of the year, Murphy had an .851 OPS and a .233 ISO. Murphy was a free agent following the season and was looking for a long-term deal. The Mets weren’t convinced that what he did was real but they had more faith in what he did than they did previously with Turner. They offered him the QO which Murphy rejected. But Murphy didn’t find many believers out there in free agency. It wasn’t until the Nationals were rebuffed by multiple other targets that they turned to Murphy and gave him a three-year deal, one with an AAV significantly lower than the QO he rejected. And of course Murphy gave the Nats two outstanding years before dealing with injury problems in the third.

Which brings us to Dominic Smith.

The former first-round pick was supposed to be a hitter who sprayed the ball from foul line to foul line, one who would hit for a good AVG but not necessarily being the slugger you think of when you think of a first baseman. But doubles power and a good glove at 1B is not the worst combination in the world. But when he got to the majors, Smith displayed more power than anticipated. In limited action his first two seasons, he put up ISOs of .198 and .196, which was at least 30 points higher than what we might have expected.

And then in 197 PA last year, Smith put up a .243 ISO. If he had done that over a full season, that would have been the 20th-best mark in the NL. He would have been nestled between Bryce Harper (.250) and Kris Bryant (.239) and it would have been the second-best mark on the Mets, above Michael Conforto (.237) but significantly behind Pete Alonso (.323) – who finished third in the NL.

And of course that’s the problem. As good as Smith was last year, Alonso was better. And not by just a little bit. The Mets did not want to play Smith in the outfield after he wasn’t any good out there in 2018. But his bat was so good that he forced his way back out there. But he wasn’t much better defensively. In 223 innings in the outfield, he put up a (-3) DRS and a (-3.6) UZR. Extrapolated to a full season, that latter number produced a (-22.6) UZR/150.

So, that seemingly leaves the Mets with two options. They can keep Smith to be a pinch-hitter deluxe and caddy for Alonso or they can look to trade him to fill other holes on the roster. But can they get anything close to “full value” in a prospective trade? Lifetime he has just a .745 OPS in the majors and that doesn’t exactly scream desired 1B to other teams.

But it feels like the memory of Turner and Murphy should be in play here.

That .243 ISO in 2019 is not something that should be dismissed out of hand. And it’s not the first we’ve seen of that from Smith in the majors, either. In sporadic playing time the first half of 2018, Smith didn’t hit much at all. But in his final 28 games that season, he had a .264/.293/.514 line for a .250 ISO. So we have 75 PA in 2018 and 197 PA in 2019 where he’s hit for this type of power. Still, 272 PA is a small sample.

In hindsight, we can say that Turner embraced the fly ball revolution. At the time we recognized that Murphy was pulling the ball with authority. But can we say what’s going on with Smith, that he’s completely flipped the narrative about him having below-average power for a 1B, to having what would have been the fourth-best ISO for an NL 1B in 2019 if he had enough PA to qualify?

For his career, Baseball-Reference has his Hit Location as 32% pulled, 49% up the middle and 19% to the opposite field. In 2019, those numbers were 33%, 50% and 17%, respectively. So, it’s not like he started to pull the ball with authority like Murphy did. And FanGraphs shows his FB% of 37.1% being just 0.5% higher than his lifetime mark, which makes it doubtful that he’s become a fly ball advocate, like Turner.

We may not be able to identify the “how” at this moment in time. But we should at least be aware that something is different in the results. Could be nothing more than a statistical blip and in the future Smith goes back to being a low-power 1B. But if he does get traded and goes on to put up big power years in another uniform, we shouldn’t act surprised.

It’s one thing to advocate for a trade of Smith and another thing to have a trade that would make it worthwhile. Just because you have no current room for a player doesn’t mean you trade him for pennies on the dollar. Essentially, that’s what the Astros ended up doing last year with J.D. Davis, with the Mets being the beneficiaries.

Jay Jaffe in an Insider piece for ESPN, suggested that the Mets and Blue Jays could partner in a win-win deal involving Smith. Jaffe had the Mets sending Smith and Franklyn Kilome to the Blue Jays for Ken Giles and Trent Thornton. Giles rebounded from a poor 2018 to post a 1.87 ERA and a 1.000 WHIP in 53 IP last season, one in which he limited opposing batters to a .574 OPS. He’s a quality arm, with a lifetime 2.67 ERA and a 1.000 WHIP in 347.1 innings, and comes complete with closer experience.

A Smith who can deliver a .243 ISO over a full season is likely worth more than Giles, especially given the contract status of the two. But when you look at the haul that the Astros received for Davis, it’s a significantly better return. There’s nothing wrong with trading Smith, even with his offensive upside. After getting nothing for Turner and a draft pick for Murphy, it would be nice to get a key contributor to the 2020 team if they decide to cash in this offseason.

12 comments for “The Mets’ challenge on a Dominic Smith trade

  1. MattyMets
    November 29, 2019 at 12:47 pm

    Numbers aside, Smith provides a spark this team benefits from. With an extra roster spot it’s ok to keep a pinch hitter on the bench. Teams always used to do that before we moved to 7 and 8 man bullpens. Aside from filling in at first and OF and allowing Alonso to DH in AL games, Smith seems to have a knack for pinch hitting, which many part-time players don’t have.

  2. Mike W
    November 29, 2019 at 2:23 pm

    Smith appears to have turned the corner on his career. A player is worth what someone else can give you. He would be a good first baseman for a low budget team like Tampa, Pittsburgh or Kansas City.

    He could take the new 26th roster spot, but to me, he is not versatile enough. His problem is Pete Alonso. If we didnt have Alonso, we could see what Smith could deliver over a larger sample size.

    Here is what concerns me, his batting average by month last year.

    April .370
    May .355
    June .297
    July .197

    We have needs and Smith is a piece. If we get the right offer to fill a need, then we should deal him.

    If he played third base too, we should keep him. I am not sold on him as an outfielder.

    But, we also have to look at the roster two and three years from now, because for now, he us cheap and wont be a free agent until 2024.

    I love the hot stove and debates about what we should do with the roster. It us a chess match that has gotten more complex and fun to try to figure out.

    • November 30, 2019 at 10:17 am

      The hits were falling in at an unsustainable rate early in the year. And he couldn’t buy a hit later in the year. That July AVG came with a .175 BABIP. At least he had 4 XBH in 55 July PA, so it wasn’t a complete washout. And he homered in his only September PA.

  3. JImO
    November 29, 2019 at 8:24 pm

    Smith also seems to be a true team player, willing to earn his way into more playing time, willing to do more conditioning to make him better at performing at positions he isnt a natural at.

    Better to hold a player while their stock is steadily rising before trading him directly before an upwards trending production spike.

  4. TexasGusCC
    November 29, 2019 at 8:26 pm

    As I started reading this piece, or any piece regarding a Mets trade, I expect it to always end up as the Mets getting relievers back. So, we must continue to trade our positional talent for relievers, when it has become apparent that relievers aren’t a guarantee? To me, Jaffe’s proposal is a gaffe. I thought Jaffe was a great writer when I used to read The National everyday. However, it seems like his trades lack sense.

    I agree with Brian about not trading Smith for pennies on the dollar. While I slam Brian Cashman’s lack of ponying up for JDG, he wouldn’t devalue his prospects, and that was for a Cy Young award guy. Why should we devalue our positional players for relievers?

    Want Smith? Griffin Conine for Smith straight up. They balk, we move on. Giles had major control issues a few years back, lost his job as a closer during the Astros’ playoffs, and was sent off – when he couldn’t rebound the next year – for a head case like Ozuna. Now, we’re going to pay top dollar for him in a top ten prospect?

    The Brewers and Padres just made a trade flipping top-50 prospects. If Smith has value, the market will show it. If he doesn’t, you keep him as Alonso insurance and see if he can build up more value, if you truly believe in him. If you think last year was luck, trade him for whatever you can get now.

  5. Joe F
    November 29, 2019 at 8:43 pm

    Let’s not forget that Turner signed a minor league contract with the Dodgers and had absolutely no other suitors at the time, so the Mets were not the only team that missed and even the Dodgers didn’t know what they were getting

  6. Metsense
    November 29, 2019 at 10:25 pm

    Smith has been was pleasent surprise but he is blocked at first base. He may have a hard time getting at bats in 2020. He is a strong candidate be included the trade package to secure a starting pitcher or/and centerfieder. Conforto, Ramos and Smith may be the bait to snag the Mets needs.

  7. NYM6986
    November 30, 2019 at 8:24 am

    Let’s not forget that Murphy’s poor fielding in the WS was as big a reason why they threw him a QO but not a long term contract. They had no where else to play him but 2B and that way they got a draft pick. JT benefitted from being with a new organization that has always been sound with instructing young players – something we never had. Love the way Smith played last year but as a good fielding 1b he will be in demand and is not only blocked by Alonso but Cano can also slide over and give Pete a rest. Combined with others in a trade is the best way to get max value. Love the change in his attitude to team first versus let’s show up late for a SP game and then unfortunately get injured and lose his shot. He is a great chip to help shore up holes. If we keep him as a bench player for another year we benefit as well, but if he slips back we will have missed a great opportunity to get value for him.

  8. TexasGusCC
    November 30, 2019 at 10:03 am

    MLBTR has a suggestion: How about Smith for Clint Frazier? I like it. Helps both teams, but Wilpon won’t do it.

    • November 30, 2019 at 10:13 am

      Do they really need another corner outfielder? He played mostly LF in the minors last year and it was about 50-50 between CF and the corners in 2018.

      • TexasGusCC
        November 30, 2019 at 10:37 am

        He came up a CF. Frazier was playing the corners in the minors because on the big league club he struggled in the corners, but his rep for CF was just fine. Besides, I’m happy with Nimmo in CF, if need be. Given a choice between a glove guy that can’t hit a lick and a bat guy that’s not bad, I’ll take the bat. It’s just good value and with Cespedes and Lowrie leaving after the year, it good to get a little depth in the outfield.

  9. December 1, 2019 at 9:59 am

    A full year of Nimmo in CF could surprise many folks with all the newfangled analytic stat lines. He really busted his neck up on a fine play in CF in Atlanta early in the season and was never the same. Cespedes coming back gives the team 3 more than decent outfielders. Get someone like C.Maybrin, who was very good for the Yanks, as the 4th OF and come in for defense late if needed. Both JD Davis and D.Smith are not true OF’s but maybe JD can get better out there in spot appearances in 2020, replace Cespedes in 2021. JD can hit 30+ bombs if played everyday (only will if his defense improves) Dom ? Totally blocked by a Polar Bear at 1ST, and probably gets traded. He is simply too good of a chip on a team that has needs to fill.

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