When the New York Mets signed Jay Bruce in the offseason, it seemed to spell the end of the Brandon Nimmo era in Queens. Sure, Nimmo was good in limited action during 2017. But, with Bruce and Yoenis Cespedes locked into contracts until the end of the 2020 season and Michael Conforto not set to hit free agency until the conclusion of 2021, where and when Nimmo could play was still to be determined.
In what seemed strange at the time, the Mets essentially refused to trade Nimmo or Juan Lagares during the offseason despite the outfield logjam, and they are probably pretty happy they prioritized their depth. Despite the Bruce signing looking like the end of Nimmo as a Met, the first month of the season seems to indicate that it instead could be the beginning.
But there’s always a domino effect. In order for Nimmo (or Lagares for that matter) to have a role on the Mets, a long-term spot needs to open. Now it’s looking like defense, age, and health might necessitate a move for Bruce to first base before his three-year contract is up. With Adrian Gonzalez producing enough, that won’t happen now, but it could later this season and may even be the likely scenario for 2019.
But, if Bruce is at first base through the 2020 season, even part-time, that seems to spell the end for another first-round pick — Dominic Smith.
The Smith era is over before it really started if you agree with these two sentences: 1) The Mets view Nimmo as a bigger part of their future than Smith, and 2) The Mets will not trade Bruce.
Let’s start with the first point. The Mets don’t appear very high on Smith anymore. Their comments this offseason were less than flattering, and they brought in a reclamation project (Adrian Gonzalez) at first base instead of giving him a chance to win the job. Of course, a .198 average in 183 PA didn’t exactly do Smith any favors either. Meanwhile, the Mets can’t seem to say enough good things about Nimmo lately, and he fits the team well.
As for trading Bruce, it seems unlikely. A productive Bruce last year could barely fetch a return on an expiring contract. An under-performing and older Bruce on a longer deal almost certainly won’t either. Maybe if the Mets eat a ton of money, but that is not exactly the front office’s style.
There’s also a third factor that comes into play here — Peter Alonso. The 2016 second-round pick is coming quick. Alonso sports a career .922 minor league OPS and boasts a 1.079 OPS so far this season in Double-A. Not only does he have the look of the team’s potential first baseman of the future, but because he’s a right-hander, he also fits a platoon role much better than Smith — a need that may arise soon as Wilmer Flores is a free agent after the 2019 season.
So as the trade deadline approaches and the Mets are looking for a piece to add, don’t be surprised if the Mets dangle Smith to fill a position of need. Of course, other teams may want Nimmo or Alonso and force the Mets to make tough decisions, but Smith is still just 22-years old and lit up Triple-A last year. If things continue to progress the way they are, his best chance of having a successful major league career might be outside of New York.