Centerfield wasn’t the only problem the Mets have been saddled with, though. The Mets have been suffering behind the plate. Everyone who has been brought in to catch the last several years has been a disappointment. You have to feel sorry for Wilson Ramos. He was a pretty good hitter but was just awful behind the plate. Nobody felt comfortable throwing to him. That’s a huge problem. And don’t go thinking it was a mistake to let Travis d’Arnaud go. How long can you wait for someone to develop? He also had some of the worst footwork I have ever seen, especially for a Major League catcher.
Francisco Lindor was a huge haul and immediately greatly upgrades the shortstop position and the lineup from both sides of the plate. He is truly one of the best all around talents in baseball. But is he a one-year rental or a long-term fixture? The success of the trade will be determined by not only his performance, but also his longevity.
Regardless of what the blood thirsty fans called for, signing Trevor Bauer would have been a HUGE mistake. His performance history is not any better than Carlos Carrasco who is, thus far, being unfairly viewed as the “throw in” in the Lindor trade. Bauer is NOT better than Jacob deGrom and certainly has done NOTHING to prove that he deserves to come to the Mets and earn almost double what deGrom is earning to pitch in New York. Just from a value standpoint, it was stupid. And from a moral and ethical standpoint, based on the type of personality Bauer is, it would have been downright moronic to bring him in to the Mets clubhouse.
So back to Pete Alonso. If you are the general manager, and you are trying to construct a winning baseball team…what do you do? There are two options – 1) Build the team around him or 2) Send him far away (hopefully far enough where he can’t come back to haunt you) and get the most that you could possibly get to strengthen the team.
It’s been done before. Lee Mazzilli. General Manager Frank Cashen, under new ownership of Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon, started with him. The matinee idol and face of the organization was sent to Texas for two guys names Ron Darling and Walt Terrell in 1982. Terrell was later turned into a guy named Howard Johnson. It was the beginning of the reconstruction of the Mets organization. It had to start somewhere. And sometimes it begins with the star of the team.
If you take Option 1, then you can’t have Dominic Smith on the team. That will leave your best first baseman, and pretty good hitter himself, playing left field and compromising the outfield defense because then Brandon Nimmo, whose best position is left field, would be forced to play centerfield. It’s also a waste to have a talented first baseman like Smith out there in the outfield when he could be toiling around the bag making the rest of the infield look that much better. Remember Keith Hernandez? John Olerud? It makes a huge difference. So not only two positions are weakened by having Smith out in left field, but in reality, six positions are weakened. The old “Dom”ino effect.
And if you do decide to go with Option 1, then trade Dom Smith NOW while his value is high. He had a great short season in 2020 and he is a wanted commodity – lefthanded slick-fielding first baseman who hits for average with some decent pop in his bat. If you are committed to Nimmo and Michael Conforto as your corner outfielders, then get a righthanded hitting compliment in centerfield who can cover the ground necessary between them. And concentrate on a third baseman, a true third baseman, with some pop in his bat, to balance the infield and steady it offensively and defensively.
That would require long-term commitments to Lindor at short and Jeff McNeil at second base. But if Alonso were to be the first baseman for the next decade or so, then it becomes even more important to have steady, consistent, sure-handed guys around the horn.
If you make the obviously unpopular decision and take Option 2, well, you had better get a nice haul for giving up Alonso. Yeah, I know all too well the Nolan Ryan story. We all know. But think about what you could get for Alonso out there on the open market. Perhaps the Angels may be willing to part with Mike Trout and his monster contract in exchange for Alonso and years of team control…if maybe you throw in a David Peterson or even a Noah Syndergaard with some others? Far-fetched? Maybe. But there is someone, some GM, out there, who just may be intrigued with getting a 50-homer guy with a great attitude.
The point is that, like Frank Cashen did with Mazzilli years before…you have to start somewhere. And while many people would say that Mazzilli was not Alonso and would never be viewed as an Alonso, the times were different with regard to statistics and, quite frankly, Mazzilli was to the Mets then what Alonso is to the Mets now.
And you can look at it like this – Alonso clogs the Mets lineup. He makes it impossible to maneuver other players around and his presence in the lineup actually negatively affects six other positions on the field. Does his offensive output make up for all of the negative run differential created by having him at first base and other players playing in the positions they are forced to play in in order to be in the lineup with him simultaneously?
In a perfect world, Alonso could be a pretty good third baseman and Dom Smith would be on the opposite end of the diamond. I think Harmon Killebrew…Tony Perez…Dick Allen…they were all power-hitting third basemen at the beginning of their careers prior to moving to first base when they became a bit less mobile. Heck, Ernie Banks was a shortstop before becoming a first baseman.
But a move like that would also be blasphemous. Why? Because when you are playing in New York you are under such scrutiny that every time you double clutch before making a throw it is analyzed, re-analyzed, over-analyzed to death. I love to think back on some guy who played some centerfield and made some outstanding plays out there, even in the 1973 World Series. No, not Willie Mays. He was awful in the field in that World Series and probably cost them a game or two. But I am talking about Reggie Jackson. Yes, Reggie Jackson. He played centerfield and played it well. And then he came to New York and, suddenly, he was an awful fielder and was better suited to be a DH. How does that transformation happen? New York baby!
What would I do if I were the GM and had the “Alonso” problem? I think I would experiment with Alonso playing third base. Heck, he couldn’t be any worse than some of the others playing there in recent years post David Wright. But perhaps, from a straight strategic baseball development business standpoint, it might be advantageous to use Alonso to get the team to where it is needed for long-term success. I wonder what it’s like to live in the Witness Protection Program.