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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Dom leads the way as Mets outslug Phillies

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After 7th straight series win to open ’22, New York now faces tough decision

4:28 AM UTC

NEW YORK — It does not take a degree in numerical analysis or linear algebra to understand the current predicament facing the Mets. When they began their 10-6 win over the Phillies on Sunday night at Citi Field, the Mets carried 28 players on their active roster. Before Monday’s game, they (and every other Major League team) must reduce their roster size to 26.

Manager Buck Showalter has said that he intends to cut one pitcher and one position player. The pitcher is fairly obvious — Yoan López, who has shuttled back and forth from the Minors multiple times this season, was already packing a suitcase following the game. The position player is less clear. It could be struggling veteran Robinson Canó, despite the tens of millions remaining on his contract. It could be a bench bat with available Minor League options, such as Luis Guillorme or J.D. Davis.

It could also be Dominic Smith — a prospect that seemed far more logical before he collected four hits and three RBIs in the finale win over the Phillies. Throughout April, Smith struggled to produce in limited playing time. On Sunday, he gave the Mets a wide glimpse of his potential on the eve of what Showalter called a “difficult” decision.

“Just a reminder of what kind of contributor he can be,” Showalter said.

Drawing one of his sporadic starts at first base, Smith singled and scored off Zach Eflin in the second inning, doubled home a game-tying run in the fourth, then singled in two more runs in the fifth. He finished 4-for-4 with a run scored and three RBIs, accounting for much of the Mets’ offense to support a less-than-vintage version of Max Scherzer.

Statistically, it was one of Smith’s most productive games of the past two seasons, allowing the Mets to win their franchise-record seventh consecutive series to open the year. It also could not have come at a more opportune time.

Although the Mets have not spoken publicly about a potential demotion of Smith, it’s clear that his roster spot is — or was — at risk. Like Guillorme and Davis, Smith has an accessible Minor League option, meaning New York wouldn’t risk losing him if it sends him to Triple-A Syracuse. Unlike Guillorme, who can play multiple defensive positions including shortstop, and Davis, who is a right-handed power hitter, Smith possesses a skill set mirroring that of Canó. Smith also entered Sunday’s play struggling to a similar extent:

Canó: .195/.233/.268, 1 HR, 50 OPS+, 53 wRC+

Smith: .167/.295/.194, 0 HR, 50 OPS+, 64 wRC+

By late Sunday, however, Smith had increased his slash line to .250/.354/.300, turning his prospective demotion into a potential public-relations nightmare. At this point, keeping Canó over Smith would be difficult to justify outside of the uncomfortable truth that the former is still owed $40.5 million, while the latter is on a $3.95 million arbitration deal. Demoting Guillorme instead would make the Mets a worse defensive team. Demoting Davis would diminish their potency against left-handed pitchers.

That leaves Smith or Canó, Canó or Smith.

“To be honest, I really haven’t thought about it,” Smith said, acknowledging that he had only a brief conversation about the situation with Showalter last week. “I really haven’t gone on social media too much. It is what it is. It’s just the business of baseball, and one of those things that’s outside of my control again. All I can do is do what I did tonight, which is help the team win.”

At least among most fans, the fashionable move would be to cut Canó, who came to the Mets in an unpopular trade before the 2019 season, struggled that year, rebounded in ’20, then missed the entire ’21 season while serving a performance-enhancing-drug suspension. The risk of releasing Canó is that he could hook on elsewhere — with the Yankees, perhaps, or with a National League East rival — and return to form on someone else’s watch. Previous versions of the Mets have been guilty of hanging onto unproductive veterans for just that reason.

The current regime has spoken openly about its desire to build the best roster possible, which theoretically means regardless of sunk costs.

On Sunday, Smith proved rather emphatically that the Mets’ best roster almost certainly includes him.

“It’s definitely going to be a very emotional day no matter who it is, and it’ll be something to see,” Smith said. “I think this team has just really grown to love each other and love playing with each other. Tomorrow, it’ll be interesting.”

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