Last season, in 60 games, Dominic Smith finally broke out. The former first round draft pick had spent a few seasons up and down with underwhelming results. In 2019 he had what appeared to be the makings of his first good season, but he got injured in July and wasn’t back until the last game of the season. But across 60 games, Smith impressed, hitting .316/.377/.616, good for a 168 OPS+, worth 1.8 fWAR and coming in 13th in MVP voting.
Now, a small wrinkle with Smith’s breakout season: it was only 60 games. Across 2019 and 2020, Smith had put together about a season’s worth of games. He had yet to break out in one full length season. But after the last two campaigns, there were reasons to be optimistic. He looked able to finally hit consistently at the major league level, and while still not a good outfielder, or even fine, he was passable enough that if his hitting kept up, it would be enough to keep him on the field.
Alas, as was the theme for the entire 2021 New York Mets roster, it was not Smith’s season. Smith appeared in 145 games, hitting .244/.303/.366, with a measly 84 OPS+ and a terrible -0.5 fWAR. He hit just 11 home runs, which is the same number as his 2019 season when he was injured for half the year.
And on the field Smith was still not competent enough to justify putting him in the field if he wasn’t hitting. He spent the majority of the season in left field, as Pete Alonso had first base on lock most of the season (the only exception being when he was hurt). In the few games Smith played at first base, he mostly broke even, good for 0 Outs Above Average. But when he played in left field he was statistically the worst fielder on the Mets, racking up an abysmal -9 OAA.
Once the Mets traded for Javier Báez, Smith’s days as an everyday starter were numbered. Once Lindor came back from injury, Báez shifted to second and Jeff McNeil was moved to left field (sharing time out there with Kevin Pillar), pushing Smith to the bench. So Smith, for the last month and change of the season, was turned into a pinch hitter off the bench and an occasional starter.
Now, while Smith wasn’t placed on the injured list at any point during the season, he was still banged up to the point that it was reported on. He reportedly was battling wrist injuries during the last couple of months of the season, which was so uncomfortable for him that he could barely swing a bat in the batting cage. To be fair, most players are banged up by seasons end, the season is a grind and these players play through the injuries. But if Smith’s wrist was so bad that he couldn’t swing in the batting cage, one has to wonder how much that affected his ability to hit during games, especially since Smith really went on a slide during the last couple months that saw any power in his bat completely vanish (he didn’t hit a single home run after July 21).
Dominic Smith is one of many questions the Mets have this offseason. The Mets certainly can’t go into next season depending on him to be an everyday player (or at least, they shouldn’t). Many people have suggested that the Mets trade him, which is an obvious solution. However, Smith, more than J.D. Davis or Jeff McNeil, probably completely tanked his trade value this season, and most Mets fans wouldn’t be happy with what he would return in a trade. It may be more valuable to stick him on the bench for a year and see what happens. If he goes back to the hitter he was in 2019 and 2020, then they have a valuable piece moving forward and 2021 was for Smith as it was for many other Mets, a down year. If he doesn’t completely turn it around but looks better than 2021 (which isn’t very hard), then they have a trade piece. If he completely blows it again, send him down to the minors, as he still has options left and hope he builds some value and try to trade him next year.
Dominic Smith left a lot to be desired in 2021 after a seemingly breakout season in 2020. He struggled at the plate, struggled in the field, and eventually struggled to find playing time. One bad season doesn’t make a ballplayer. However, he definitely has a lot to prove, and he may not be able to prove it in New York.