Pete Alonso or Dominic Smith. Who you got? The Mets can and probably will keep both, especially if the NL goes to a designated hitter permanently or the Mets willingly continue to have dubious defense by shoehorning Smith in left field.
But that this is even a question says something about how both have played this abbreviated season. After all, Smith was eye-opening last year, but Alonso was historic. Yet, the cleanup-hitting first baseman as this season ends is rightfully Smith.
So who do you believe in more going forward? I asked eight scouts, executives and coaches — all from the NL East — if you could acquire one or the other, who would you want? None saw it as strongly definitive, but Smith was favored five to three.
One scout who preferred Alonso because of power and long-term concerns about Smith’s body framed the overall debate: “Alonso had a career year in 2019, Smith in 2020. Who has the better chance to repeat the career year? Probably Smith who has the better pure swing compared to the better raw power. … Alonso might have the higher ceiling, but Smith has the higher floor.” A scout who favored Smith, said, “Alonso’s best is going to be better than Dom’s, but his worst is going to be a lot worse.”
The pro-Smith votes could be viewed as recency bias or overstating the results from a bizarre season. But a few items:
1. Smith is actually six months younger than Alonso (both are 25).
2. He was a higher draft pick.
3. He is left-handed.
4. He at least has the versatility to play the corner outfield beyond being the superior defensive first baseman.
5. He becomes Super-2 arbitration eligible this offseason (Alonso does not become arbitration eligible until after next year), but both are in line to be free agents following the 2024 season.
On that last one, the Mets were hailed for putting Alonso on the roster from the outset last year, so he would be a free agent after six major league seasons rather than seven. But he has options, thus, if he were to stumble in 2021 like in 2020, the Mets could demote him and if Alonso were in the minors for at least three weeks, he would not be a free agent before the end of the 2025 season.
That is a long step from here. What is closer — especially with the Mets almost certainly missing the playoffs — is formulating the 2021 team, perhaps the first of Steve Cohen’s regime. The Mets are again among the worst at turning balls in play into outs. They would be best served with Alonso, Robinson Cano and perhaps J.D. Davis all at DH, yet not only can just one at a time do it, but there is no certainty the DH will remain in the NL.
You can live with Alonso at first over Smith, but not if the offense of Smith is comparable or better. Smith can play left serviceably, but forcing a bat in the lineup to the detriment of defense has been a longstanding Mets problem.
Like every team, the Mets will have to decide what to make of the results from a disjointed season that challenged body and mind. Alonso has followed being NL Rookie of the Year with 53 homers and a .941 OPS by hitting .202 (through Monday) with a .713 OPS. Smith conversely followed a breakout 2019 (albeit in a supplementary role) to be one of the NL’s best hitters. His 167 OPS-plus is currently the second best among qualified hitters (yes, qualified is much more limited this year) in Mets history to Howard Johnson’s 169 in 1989.
So which way to go?
Those who liked Alonso
They noted his dedication and that he will go to school on how he was being pitched — a lot of hard-in early and breaking balls away late — that has diminished impact off his bat. One executive likened Alonso to Mark McGwire, who hit a then-record 49 homers as a 1987 rookie and took a while to regain that form. McGwire’s history is, of course, warped by his steroid use, but the point was McGwire was smart and a hard worker, and the executive felt that also would benefit Alonso over time.
The strongest pro Alonso take came from an executive who, in part, viewed the defensive edge Smith has over Alonso at first base as more marginal than the advanced stats suggest. The official added, “The most underrated part of the game is in the games played column. And Alonso is dependable and reliable. He posts. That rubs off on others. I think Alonso had bad luck this year and Smith had good luck this year and I would not overstate this year for a lot of reasons.”
Those who liked Smith
One scout said, “This is the hitter he was drafted to be, and no one knew what was holding him back — until his sleep apnea was diagnosed, allowing him to get his body back in shape and his energy and focus back.”
Another scout thought Smith’s success was more sustainable, saying of Alonso, “This may be more than the sophomore jinx. We may be watching the quintessential streaky power hitter who pitchers are finding they can exploit as long they don’t miss their spots.” This scout added, “(Smith) is a better player than Pete in virtually all phases other than power.”
One more scout after going through the offensive and defensive case said, “It is a matter of taste and fit. I personally like the more consistent, better overall player. I always have. That’s Smith.”