A few days ago, on the MLB deadline for teams to offer contracts to players who are arbitration eligible, the New York Mets decided not to tender a contract to Dominic Smith.
Smith, who turned 27 years old during this past season, was the Mets’ first-round pick in the 2013 MLB June Amateur Draft out of Junipero Serra high school in California. He debuted in 2017 at 22 years old and spent his entire career with the Mets, posting a .733 OPS across 1,373 plate appearances.
This past season may have been Smith’s worst to date, as he slashed .194/.276/.284 with zero home runs and 17 RBIs over 134 at-bats. An ankle injury, coupled with time spent at the Triple-A level as a result of poor performance, hampered Smith throughout the year and decimated any chance that he would be back with the Mets in 2023.
Reports have surfaced in the coming days that the San Diego Padres were planning to check in on Smith now that he’s a free agent. The team has been linked to him in the past, most notably before this past season commencing in a deal that would have sent Eric Hosmer to the Mets.
While Smith likely doesn’t fit a need on the Padres in a starting role, there is some value for the team to bring him back home in a more limited capacity.
Though he’s been plagued by injuries in the past, a healthy version of Smith has shown flashes in the pan of production. Utilizing him off the bench could help keep him healthy more often and preserve his body throughout the grueling major league season.
Smith’s career strikeout rate of 24.3% isn’t terrible, especially given the way the game is trending, and his 110.7 mph career max exit velocity mark is above league average despite not jumping off the page. He’s fared equally against both-handed pitching as far as his batting splits go and actually has a career OPS better on the road (.769) than in the ‘Big Apple’ (.690).
It’s a small sample size, but Smith is also significantly better offensively when he comes off the bench than if he were to start a game. He owns a .709 OPS across 1,130 at-bats when he starts and a .962 OPS in 114 at-bats when he doesn’t. Again, it’s an extremely small sample size, but the fact that he’s had prior success as a bench bat is at least encouraging.
Adding Smith to this team won’t push the Padres over the edge, but he’ll almost certainly be one of the better left-handed bench options on the market. That’s something in particular that the Padres struggled to get production out of last season after Nomar Mazara, Trayce Thompson, Robinson Cano, and others flared out.
Bringing Smith in has little-to-no risk and could end up being beneficial for the team if he finds any semblance of success as a left-handed bat off the bench.