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Mets: What to do at first base with Dominic Smith and Pete Alonso in 2021

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 12: Pete Alonso #20 of the New York Mets is congratulated by his teammates Dominic Smith #2, Michael Conforto #30 and Andres Gimenez #60 after hitting a two run home run against the Washington Nationals during the sixth inning at Citi Field on August 12, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 12: Pete Alonso #20 of the New York Mets is congratulated by his teammates Dominic Smith #2, Michael Conforto #30 and Andres Gimenez #60 after hitting a two run home run against the Washington Nationals during the sixth inning at Citi Field on August 12, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images) /
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How will the New York Mets manage 2021 with Pete Alonso and Dominic Smith both on the roster?

It is very rare for the New York Mets to have an “embarrassment of riches” at any position. With both Dominic Smith and Pete Alonso, that is exactly what they have at first base. Though Alonso was entrenched at first to start off the 2020 season, he has since been supplanted by Smith in many games. Both have also seen some time as the designated hitter on days where the other is starting at first.

Coming into this year, Smith was viewed by many as a fan favorite without a position. Alonso had just come off of his historic 53 home runs in 2019. He was crowned by many (including myself) as the undisputed starting first baseman of the future. His defense took a huge step forward in 2019, while Smith missed several months with a foot injury and spent much of his limited playing time in the outfield.

But ever since Smith walked it off for the Mets in dramatic fashion on the last day of their 2019 season, the tides have begun to turn for the two young first basemen. Going into this year, it was assumed by the Mets and their fans that with Yoenis Cespedes returning to the lineup, Dom Smith might be out of a job come Opening Day. Alonso started at first every day for the first week of the season, with Smith seeing sporadic pinch-hit appearances in the Mets’ first few games.

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Then, a funny thing happened. Cespedes opted out of the season on August 2, just nine games into the Mets’ shortened season.

Thanks to Smith’s looming presence on the bench, most fans weren’t that devastated about Cespedes being gone. And if there’s a list of “Mets players who benefited most from Cespedes opting out,” Smith is absolutely #1 on that list.

He has crushed opposing pitchers this season, hitting .329 with nine home runs, 41 RBI, 18 doubles, and an OPS over 1.000 as of September 19. Smith is among the National League leaders in batting average, doubles, RBI, and OPS, and has seen increased time at first base as the season has gone on.

For a player who was once trade bait, Smith should now be an indispensable part of the team’s future.

Meanwhile, from the right side of the plate, Alonso has had a rough go of it. His batting average has hovered around .220 for most of the season, and he has frequently chased bad pitches and taken clear strikes. His defense has also been a little shakier than last year, which has relegated him to the DH role more and more as the season has gone on. With Smith and Michael Conforto having MVP-caliber years at the plate, the Polar Bear’s once-nightly heroics have faded a bit.

Despite these struggles, he still leads the Mets in home runs and has several memorable moments to his name, namely a walk-off home run against the Yankees on September 3. But after 2020, it is clear that Smith is too good to be a bench player, and Alonso simply hasn’t out-performed him enough to stay locked into the first base job.

So, what should the Mets do with both Smith and Alonso vying for the first base job heading into 2021?

As of September 19, the NL is not planning to retain the DH for the 2021 season. That could change, of course, just like everything else in baseball this season. But if this is the case, Smith and Alonso might have a harder time sharing playing time. Smith has experience in left field, playing 19 games there in 2020 and 64 games there in his career, so he could see some roster flexibility that way. Since Alonso pretty much only plays first base, he may have a harder time staying there consistently next year without the DH.

What makes this situation even tougher is that both Smith and Alonso are beloved by Mets fans. Smith endeared himself to the Flushing Faithful with his exuberant spirit while on the IL last year, his hilarious quips during episodes of “The Cookie Club” earlier in 2020, and his knack for churning out extra-base hits. He is the ultimate team player, always reiterating how lucky he is to be playing major league baseball whenever he’s asked about his playing time.

Smith was also a central figure in the team’s Black Lives Matter protests in late August. His emotional post-game interview on August 26 tugged at the heartstrings of everyone who watched it. Smith is never afraid to show his emotions on and off the field, and his honesty in this interview about his experiences as a black man in America was inspiring and thought-provoking.

Meanwhile, Alonso has compiled an extensive laundry list of reasons why the fans love him. He single-handedly ignited the “LFGM” movement as a rookie last year. His mic’d up series with MLB in 2020 has been a hit, showing how respectful he is to his opponents and how much fun he has on the field every day (as if we didn’t already know). Alonso also spent his pre-season quarantine productively, starting a charity called “Homers for Heroes” with his fiancee Haley.

Finally, he was the spokesman for the announcement on 9/11/2020 that the Mets finally received MLB approval to wear first responder hats during their game. I would not be surprised if Alonso’s efforts with the team-wide customized cleats on 9/11/2019 helped move the needle on this issue.

With all of that said, in-game effectiveness will determine who sees more time at first base next season. Smith has hit lefties well in 2020, meaning that a righty/lefty platoon between him and Alonso is unlikely. Alonso has more raw power, but Smith seems to hit doubles and home runs to the gap in right-center just about every at-bat. They’re both extremely talented players, and with Alonso’s incredible 2019 campaign and Smith’s monster year in 2020, they both deserve a prominent role in 2021.

The bottom line is, even for a team with as much offensive firepower as the Mets, you can never have too many good players. Both Alonso and Smith have years of team control left. They are instrumental pieces to the team’s clubhouse chemistry. Ideally, both will be in a Mets uniform for years to come.

I hope that Alonso can bounce back next year, defensively and offensively. I certainly haven’t given up on him, even though Smith has out-performed him over the past 60 games. Hitting coach Chili Davis returning to the dugout in 2021 should help Alonso at the plate. Once he’s more consistent in the batter’s box, his defense will be stronger. Though Smith has been a better defender in 2020, I still believe that Alonso can be an everyday first baseman for the Mets going forward.

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Ultimately, it is unclear exactly what the right move is for the Mets with Smith and Alonso in 2021. They’re a better team with both of those guys in the clubhouse and on the field as much as possible. I’m rooting for Alonso and Smith to share the spotlight equally in 2021, in whatever combination of first base/left field/DH they end up playing.

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