The Mets have two studs at first base. Unfortunately, they may be put in a tough spot this upcoming season. That is, of course, pending a huge decision from the MLB. While it is widely expected that the DH will be implemented for the 2021 season, it is not guaranteed. Regardless, if it is not implemented this year, it will surely be instituted for next year and beyond. Therefore, the Mets may have to deal with the juggernaut they have at first in a variety of ways. This also depends on what the Mets do in center field. As of now, Dominic Smith is penciled in as the left fielder with Pete Alonso at first base. However, given the widely expected news that will be the acquisition of a center fielder may change that.
Start Alonso, bench Smith
Say the Mets do inevitably acquire a center fielder such as George Springer or Jackie Bradley Jr. Putting either of the two in center field would shift Brandon Nimmo to left field and leave Smith and Alonso for first base. The first option would be to bench one and smart the other. These would probably be the least likely option as the Mets would want to play either as much as possible. However, say the Mets give Pete Alonso the reigns to first base.
Alonso struggled in 2020, but it is only one year removed from his record-breaking rookie season. During that season, he had 53 home runs which led the league and broke a rookie record. Alonso thus earned the right to get the starting gig at first base. Unfortunately for Pete, he struggled out of the gate and had a season defined with inconsistency. When it seemed as if Alonso would break out of his funk, he would respond by entering another slump. Despite all of this, Alonso finished with sixteen home runs in 57 games, a significant number. He had been on pace for around 45 for a full season.
Many wondered how Alonso would respond in his second big league season. He struggled mightily, but many expected some sort of a sophomore slump to occur. Now that he has a full off-season to find himself again, he will attempt to come back stronger in 2021. In doing so, he can hopefully be the Alonso we saw in 2019. The Mets understand this, which is why it’s possible the Mets will give their Rookie-of-the-year the reigns at first base.
Start Smith, bench Alonso
The Mets could also pursue the reverse and start Dom Smith while benching Alonso, at least to start the season. Smith has come into his own after starting off slow his first couple of seasons in the big leagues. Smith, a 2013 first-round pick for the Mets, had been highly regarded when the Mets called him up in 2017. While his first couple of seasons evidenced some struggles, the last couple of seasons have showcased the potential the Mets saw when they drafted him in 2013.
One caution, however, is that he has not reached 100 games yet in any of the seasons he has placed. That, of course, is through no fault to his own. The Mets called him up in August 2017, permitting him to appear in just 49 games. In 2018, the Mets had first base occupied by veterans such as Adrian Gonzalez and didn’t give him a shot until later in the season. In 2019, Smith was a part-time player as Alonso took the league by storm. Additionally, he locked down the first base position and left Smith to a part-time role. Smith had succeeded well in his role, however, and played in 88 games until he got injured, which sidelined him until the final game.
Smith Puts Up Successful 2020 Season
In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic cut the season short to only 60 games. However, in those 60 games, Smith tore it up and showed the Mets that they have two first basemen that can play. As a result, the Mets utilized the DH and had Alonso as the designated hitter with Smith playing at first. Thus, the universal DH rule that was implemented greatly helped the Mets because it allowed them to implement their best defensive lineup, as well as offensive. Therefore, the Mets may have more faith in Smith’s success in 2020 and use that as a reason to start him. Smith put up a 1.9 WAR and slashed .316/.377/.616 with an OPS+ of 169. He also had ten home runs and 42 RBI.
Although a small sample size, Smith showed how dominant of a player he could be. Another reason to start him would be his defense as he’s much more polished at the position compared to Alonso. Therefore, the Mets could end up starting Smith over Alonso and see how everything plays out.
Platoon Smith And Alonso
The Mets also have the option of platooning both Smith and Alonso. They could split time at first between the two based on pitching matchups and other factors. This is something the Mets would prefer not to do, however. They’d like to run whoever is hot at first and let them play. However, they also cannot just forget about their other stud first baseman.
Thus, they’re going to have to find a way to make it work. They will have to look at each of Smith’s and Alonso’s splits and determine where their weaknesses are. If they can do so, they can determine who starts on a given night based on who would give the team the best chance to win. Whether it be starting Alonso against lefties, or Smith against righties, the Mets can use this strategy to find playing time for both.
Use Smith In Multiple Positions
Another option for the Mets would be to use Dominic Smith in multiple positions to give him as much playing time as possible. Once the Mets inevitably get a center fielder, whomever it is, they will shift Brandon Nimmo over to left. However, to deal with the problem the Mets currently have would be to play Smith at both first base and left field. While Alonso could be the designated first basemen, Smith could substitute him for a day off and can also substitute Nimmo in left field.
The Mets would be sacrificing some defense in this scenario. While Nimmo has struggled mightily in center fielder, he has been more than serviceable in left. Smith, on the other hand, has been a liability when he has played the position. In 2020, he put up -2 outs above average, which is a statistic used to show how many outs a player has saved over his peers. The good news for Smith and the Mets is that he has improved over the years in the position since he started.
Of course, the Mets would rather Smith not have to play in left field but they will do whatever necessary to win. Therefore, the Mets may be able to create a schedule in which they use Smith in both left field and first base.
Trade One Of Smith Or Alonso
The last and most undesirable option would be to trade one of Smith or Alonso. Given that the DH is likely to return for good in 2022, this would be a shortsighted move. However, the Mets could be forward-thinking and use one of their first base assets to acquire a young controllable pitcher or another controllable player. The Mets would likely wish to keep both as long as possible in Queens, however, they would be prepared to do so if needed. Despite this, it would be a complete shock if the Mets decided to trade either Alonso or Smith, especially with the universal DH looming in 2022 and beyond.
Thus, with the DH potentially being absent in 2021, the Mets are going to have some decisions to make. The Mets are going to do their best to find a way for both of their young first basemen to get playing time in 2021. Whether it be splitting time, benching one, switching players around, etc. the Mets will have a lot of choices. Whichever solutions they decide will certainly be aimed at winning as many games as possible.