The theme of this past offseason’s signings for the Mets was acquiring depth. They signed Michael Wacha and Rick Porcello to strengthen the back end of the starting rotation. They also signed Dellin Betances and Brad Bach as supporting middle relievers. Outfielder Jake Marisnick and infielder Eduardo Núñez also joined the party as potential backups.
And in January, the Mets signed veteran Matt Adams to a one-year deal to provide some insurance at first base. But if there’s one place the Mets don’t need any more support, it’s at first base.
The Mets have a close-to-ideal situation at first. Pete Alonso had one of the best rookie seasons in recent memory last year, breaking the single-season rookie home run record and establishing himself as a face of the franchise. Dominic Smith broke out as much as a backup can break out, ranking fourth on the team amongst all batters with at least 100 plate appearances with a 134 OPS+. Smith also happens to fulfill some of Alonso’s shortcomings, namely with fielding and left-handedness, making him a valuable hitter to keep on the bench.
Much like Alonso, Adams’s greatest asset is his power. Much like Smith, Adams can be a useful left-handed pinch hitter. But Adams’s skill doesn’t exceed that of either player in any facet of the game. Anything Matt can do, Pete and Dom can do better.
Which is too bad for Adams, because for many teams, taking a flier on him makes a lot of sense. Adams hit for a pedestrian .741 OPS last season in Washington, but also popped 20 home runs in 111 games. His below-average fielding performance doesn’t make him an attractive prospect on the field, but he could provide value as a left-handed power hitter off the bench, and potentially as a part-time designated hitter with the universal DH now in place. But there isn’t much room for Adams to play on the Mets with two significantly more valuable players above him in the depth chart.
Adams seems to know this, and during spring training he brought up the possibility of playing left field, a position he’s played in 34 of his 602 major league games. The Mets have no obvious option at that position, as an all-infield Dominic Smith/J.D. Davis rotation looks the most likely heading into the season. Smith, Davis, and Adams have all put up a career-negative UZR in left field according to Fangraphs, so Adams could technically be a wash defensively in comparison to Smith and Davis. But even if he were capable defensively, his below-average offensive production would still push him below Davis and Smith, two of the team’s top-four hitters last season in OPS+. Once again, he’d be a backup’s backup at best.
The Mets should also consider Adams’s heart health entering this season. Before spring training began, an undisclosed issue found during a physical in Port St. Lucie forced Adams to fly back to New York for cardiac testing, where doctors declared him healthy. Pre-existing heart conditions has been identified as a potentially fatal complication to anyone suffering from COVID-19, and though there’s no word on whether Adams has a pre-existing heart condition, that the team wanted his heart checked before the season began might give him some pause. It will ultimately be up to Adams and the organization to decide whether he’s safe and healthy enough to play, as the pandemic poses possibly the most difficult question to Adams’s status with the team.
If Adams is to play for the Mets in 2020, it will likely be because either Alonso or Smith got hurt, and more likely Smith since his profile better matches Smith’s than it does Alonso’s. But as Adams is currently not on the 40-man roster, he’ll likely start the season waiting for a chance.