NEW YORK, NY – AUGUST 19: Wilmer Flores #4 and Dominic Smith #22 of the New York Mets celebrate the 8-1 win over the Miami Marlins on August 19, 2017 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
The off season is chugging along at a pace. Here we are post-Holidays, still the first week of January, spring training a little more than a month away already. Heck, the Nationals’ victory champagne is barely dried on the carpet. The Mets, as we know, have made a few moves, mainly revamping their beleaguered bullpen. There are still adjustments to be made – very little has been done to shore up their porous defense, for instance. It is somewhat ironic, considering that catching the ball and throwing it properly used to be as much a hallmark of this franchise as starting pitching; the two go pretty much hand-in-hand, anyway. Yes, the contending Mets of 1969-76 boasted pitchers like Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan, Jon Matlack and Gary Gentry. But they were helped out – and their stats burnished accordingly – by the likes of Bud Harrelson, Al Weis, Tommy Agee, Wayne Garrett, Jerry Grote and Felix Millan, staunch defenders, all. As the fortunes of the team plummeted in the late-‘70s, the first thing to go was that proud, famous defense.

It’s no coincidence that when the team revived itself in the ‘80s, it was again on the back of pitching and defense. Gary Carter, Keith Hernandez, Lenny Dykstra, Rafael Santana, Kevin Elster, Tim Teufel and Howard Johnson ably supported Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Bob Ojeda, Frank Viola and the rest of the vaunted staff of 1984-90. These guys knew their roles, knew their positions inside and out and played them nearly flawlessly. After that, though, the team decided to get…umm… “creative” when it came to the defense. It started to become less and less a priority, even as the team was winning. And so, in that 1990 season, the Mets decided to go full-on experimental. In fact, since the early-‘90s, the Mets have had a dubious history of playing people out of position.

Keith Miller was signed by the Mets as an amateur free agent in September, 1984. He rose quickly through the farm system, a mere two seasons, and reached the majors in 1987, making his debut in mid-June. He was a lifelong infielder, a second baseman, specifically. In 404 games in the majors and minors between 1985 and 1989, he played 310 games at second, 25 in the outfield. So naturally, he opened the 1990 season as the starting centerfielder. For an organization that prided itself on its intelligence – the brain trust was still Frank Cashen and Davey Johnson, even at this late stage — a move like this was a head-scratcher. The folly of the play was exposed right away, on Opening Day at Shea against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Trailing 5-3 in the top of the sixth, Miller committed absolute butchery on a fly ball by Wally Backman – of the Pirates!!! – that was scored a triple and led to another run in an eventual 12-3 loss. The experiment ultimately lasted all of 13 games before Miller was replaced.

Undaunted, the Mets tried it again two years later, with Johnson the centerfield guinea pig this time. He made it through half a season before the odious Vince Coleman returned from injury. Fast-forwarding to 1998, the Mets tried to play erstwhile catcher Todd Hundley in left field upon the arrival of Mike Piazza. That attempt to squeeze two potent bats into the lineup was comically unsuccessful and mercifully brief. Then there was the trial of Piazza himself at first base in the latter stages of his tenure.

Some fresher memories include left fielder Daniel Murphy, right fielder Lucas Duda and shortstop Wilmer Flores. All of which leads us right back to this offseason and the neglect of defense. Despite the acquisition of outfielder Jake Marisnick, there isn’t really a true centerfielder on this team, Juan Lagares having previously been jettisoned. There is brave talk of the return of Yoenis Cespedes, who – it was proven spectacularly in the 2015 World Series – is no centerfielder. Neither is Michael Conforto, neither is Brandon Nimmo. J.D. Davis is a next-gen Murphy, a solid/could-be-great bat with no position to play and nowhere to hide. And then there’s Dominic Smith, a slick fielding first baseman, in the Hernandez or George Scott mold, who played a lot of games in left field, due to the emergence of the slugging Pete Alonso at first. Smith’s name has been bandied about as a trade candidate, perhaps piggy-backed with a Jed Lowrie salary dump.

Maybe, sometime in the next month, GM Brodie Van Wagenen will get around to addressing this kind of stuff. But I doubt it.

9 comments on “Out of Position: From Keith Miller to Dominic Smith

  • Ike Rauth

    When and if Brody learns how to become a GM and stops making moves like Lowery and starts understanding the value of the pieces he has maybe then if we have to move a young controllable 300 hitter that’s a very good defensive player maybe will we will finally make a fair trade and get equal value for a player like this put him together with Nemo and go get a real centerfielder or a good young starting pitcher

  • Mike Walczak

    I think a good question is, who would want Dominic Smith? He is only worth what someone would pay for him.

    I can think of a few possible suitors including the Brewers, Rays, Marlins.

    Challenge is, Smith put up his numbers in a quarter of a season. He may not be seen around the league as high value. If he had more perceived value, I think he would have been traded already.

  • Chris F

    From your pen to god’s ears Charlie. Well done.

  • Joe F

    Marisnick definitely qualifies as a CF and is well above average defensively. As far as Dom goes, he showed quite a bit of prowess as a pinch hitter and was carving out a role as late inning caddy for Alonso before the OF need arose. He wasn’t a GG, but he played as much OF in HS as he did 1B and had a highly rated arm, so he is not nearly the square peg as some of the other players mentioned and they have no plans for him to be full time out there, so if there is no meaningful return for him at this point, why not keep a competent PH, skilled defensive back up 1B, some depth to the OF, and a solid team player at $500 k? He is worth more keeping him at that salary than trading for a no name RP with no track record

  • NYM6986

    Nice article and remembrance of our best teams built on strong defense up the middle. The 86 team could mash so any defensive woes could be masked. The 69 team was carried by pitching with great defense from other teams castoffs and timely hitting. Our 2020 team can certainly hit but need a Cespedes type bat to throw the offense ahead of division rivals. There is no one in our lineup that other teams actually fear coming to the plate and without protection for Alonso a lot of teams will pitch around him. A strong backup catcher is critical and absent a trade, they better keep working to improve Nimmo’s CF defense. Of course if he hits .290 in the lead off spot we will learn to live with some outfield miscues. We are still stronger going into this year than last so fingers crossed.

  • Rob

    The one I recall not listed was Reyes to second when they signed kazaa matsuri.

    • Charles Hangley

      I meant to include that one, but I forgot. LOL

      • Rob

        Another one that comes to mind is trading a centerfielder and closer for second baseman to play center. Juan samuel

  • Scott Ferguson

    I think Nimmo will be fine un CF. If you look at his advanced fielding stars, he’s basically going to be the guy who makes the plays he can get to. He just won’t make the head turning play. The issue is LF. Right now we have 2 infielders playing there and a guy coming off of multiple lower leg injuries. If Cespedes can be the LF of old, then defensively they’ll be fine, but no one knows how much he’ll play or if he can even play the OF anymore. You could get away with a Davis/Smith platoon, but you’d have to play Marisnick everyday, which isn’t happening. They are better defensively in the OF by just putting Conforto in the right spot and replacing Lagares with Marisnick, but LF is still an interesting scenario.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: