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Extending Dominic Smith now might be a good idea for the Mets

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Why trade him when you can keep him?

New York Mets v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Let’s say there was this player, who for the first few years of his career struggled. But in his first full season in the majors, during which he missed some time due to injury, he hit .282/.355/.525, with 11 home runs and a 133 wRC+. Then the next season, although a smaller sample size, this player appeared to get even better, hitting .316/.377/.616, with a 165 wRC+ and being worth 1.8 fWAR, the second most valuable position player on the team. He is also a quality defensive first baseman, and a serviceable left fielder. That seems like the kind of player a team would want to hold onto—and make one of their core players for as long as possible.

So naturally, Dominic Smith’s name has come up in trade talks over the last two offseasons. Now, it’s understandable why some people would think that trading Smith would be a good idea. The Mets have Pete Alonso, who after winning Rookie of the Year in 2019 looked like the long-term lock for first base, and still could lay claim to it. The designated hitter may not be around in the National League next season, which would make Smith more of a bat off the bench, which he is too good of a player to be.

But it might be a mistake to trade Smith for those reasons. The designated hitter, even if the National League doesn’t have it next season, is pretty much a lock to become a part of the National League lineup after the collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of next season. Once the Mets have a permanent DH spot, there will be room for both Alonso and Smith. And trading away a great player who won’t be a free agent until 2025 because of one season where there might not be an everyday spot for him seems foolish. It’s better to have too many good players than not enough.

Now this isn’t a piece about why the Mets shouldn’t trade Smith. The argument being made here is that they should extend him. Smith’s first two seasons in the majors—during which he played in just over 100 games combined—were something of a disappointment. But the last two seasons, he’s been a breakout success. And in the 2020 season especially, not only was one of the teams top hitters, he was among the best hitters in the entire league. He was in the top fifteen players for batting average, RBI, slugging percentage, OPS, and doubles in all of baseball. That’s not just good, that’s amazing.

So while it may be premature, let’s consider it for a moment. If one believes that the Dominic Smith of the last two seasons, the first-round draft pick who rose through the minors with only one season having a wRC+ below 130 and a batting average below .285, is the real deal, then they should extend him now. If they wait any longer, if he proves his baseball prowess for longer, he’s only going to get more expensive. They should lock him up now while they have the chance.

Now the other side of this coin is: What if Smith regresses, what if he turns into an average or below average player? A long term extension might look foolish and even hurt the team in the long run. So the hesitance to sign him long term is understandable right now. But if Smith has another season next year at the level he’s been playing at, the long term extension might be the best idea before he gets much more expensive. An extension buying out his remaining arbitration years and first few years of free agency might be a good idea, seeing as he won’t hit free agency until he turns 30.

The hitch here would be what an extension would look like. The Mets probably wouldn’t want to give him much more than $5-6 million a year based on the output they’ve seen, because while it’s been good, there’s not a lot of history to it on the major league level. And on the opposite side, Smith might not want to take so little, and he might prefer to not sign an extension until he has a longer track record and can command more money. Because a few more seasons playing the way he has the last two and he’ll be commanding significantly more money. For both sides to meet, there might be complications in the form of options and back-loading money to protect against bad investments and improving play.

But if the Mets and Smith can come to an agreement, he would be a valuable investment in their future. A quality first baseman who hits to an MVP caliber, who can be a designated hitter and if needed can slot into left, is something you don’t find everyday. And if you have one, and they’re proven, you don’t let them go. You make them a core player and build around them. You don’t trade them away because they don’t fit perfectly for one season.