The Mets and Yankees have a problem. Four quality players are competing for the two jobs at first base. This is on how and why the teams will break the tie.
Privately, the Mets and Yankees, while they might wish the problem they have could exist at three or four other positions, are fretting about making cuts at their first base position. There will only be winners. The losers pack their bags heading to Syracuse, NY (Mets) and Scranton, PA (Yankees). Opening Day is a mere twelve days away. The clock is ticking towards decisions I believe the Mets and Yankees will make.
By now, we all know the players in the competition. For the Mets, Dominic Smith is competing against Pete Alonso. And for the Yankees, Greg Bird is vying for the first base job against Luke Voit. No one has failed the test by eliminating themselves during Spring Training.
Depending on how you look at it, this is either a fortunate or unfortunate development for the Mets and Yankees, because now, each team must make a choice. If logic has anything to with their respective decisions (and I believe it will), this is what I predict will materialize.
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The New York Mets
Dominic Smith and Pete Alonso have put up numbers which are remarkably similar during preseason competition. Smith holds the edge in batting average and RBI, but Alonso, as expected, has displayed pure power with three home runs, each of which had his teammates standing on the top step in awe.
If we believe Brodie Van Wagenen’s chant about bringing “the best team North”, then we can dismiss the chance Alonso will be the loser, sent down only to give the Mets a sixth year of control before he reaches free agency.
This is logical, only because by the time Pete Alonso reaches the stage of even arbitration, the strategy employed by teams to gain that “extra” year will be eliminated via either forthcoming rule changes, or the next collective bargaining agreement due in 2021. Briefly, for now, arbitration will come sooner and free agency later, satisfying both sides who feel victimized by the current agreement.
Here’s a brief summary on each player.
Dominic Smith – Applicant First Base Job
Dominic Smith is not a new face on the New York Mets. He has played a limited number of games (105) with the big league club over the last two seasons. The ensuing production has left the team and fans waiting for more (.210 BA, a woeful .259 on-base percentage, and a 1:3 strikeout ratio per at-bats).
Smith was also tagged with the word “sluggish” during his time with the Mets, which is a nice way of saying – “He’s lazy”, perhaps the worst moniker a major league ballplayer wants to be labeled with.
Come to find out though, Dominic Smith was diagnosed with sleep apnea, a disorder, by the way, I share with him, that causes breathing problems and interrupted sleep.
Smith was fitted with what is called a CPAC mask, which helps to correct the issue. He attributes the increase in energy and production the Mets have seen to this treatment.
The question then persists – can Dominic Smith continue this sudden outburst of production when he faces “real” major league pitching five or six times a week? And, are those medical issues a thing of the past, and will Smith continue to wear this (uncomfortable mask – I know) for the remainder, at least, of his playing career?
Pete Alonso – Applicant First Base Job
Formerly Peter Alonso, Pete has been the much-touted hitting and power machine in the Mets organization since he was Drafted by the New York Mets in the 2nd round of the 2016 MLB June Amateur Draft from University of Florida (Gainesville, FL).
Alonso has hit for power and average regardless of where he’s been in the Mets organization since then. His 36 home runs and 119 RBI are enough to leave the Mets salivating on what his bat can mean in their lineup.
Defensively, Alonso purportedly needs improvement. But, as I’ve argued before, so what? Hitting is a natural talent and can’t be “learned”. Defense, with hard work and coaching (hello, Keith Hernandez), can be acquired. Besides, it’s not like Alonso can’t adequately handle the job with the skills he currently has.
First, know that is a complete re-write after sleeping on what I wrote last night. It’s that much of a tough choice. But Pete Alonso gets the nod over Dominic Smith. In a nutshell, Alonso has more upside than Smith, plus Alonso provides cover as a right-handed bat in a lopsided lefty Mets lineup.
I put aside the logic of the Mets sending Alonso down for a short term assignment in order to gain that much-coveted sixth year of team control, but only because a new agreement is forthcoming between owners and players. Arbitration will begin earlier to fix the player’s misjudgment and bias against young players in the current agreement, and free agency will come later to satisfy owners.
Unlike Smith’s work ethic, there is nothing needing fixing in Alonso’s grasp of what it takes to be a successful major league ballplayer. Teammates rave about his ability to adjust on the fly to the way pitchers are pitching to him, as well as his overall maturity.
Smith gets an A for effort this Spring, but unfortunately, it’s too late.
New York Yankees
The Mets are Yankees are separated in their decision making by the fact that neither Greg Bird or Luke Voit are rookies. Voit has been playing pro ball since he was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 22nd round of the 2013 MLB June Amateur Draft from Missouri State University (Springfield, MO). Greg Bird is a homegrown product of the Yankees and was drafted in the 5th round of the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft from Grandview HS (Aurora, CO).
However, both the Mets and Yankees are joined by the fact that both players in competition for the first base job are having good production in Spring Training Games. A glance at their stats in preseason games show Bird with a small edge over Voit as of play on Sunday.
Here’s a brief sketch on each player that the Yankees are likely to use in their evaluations before making a choice between the two to open the season.
Greg Bird – Applicant First Base Job
As a homegrown product of the Yankees, it’s conceivable that alone gives Greg Bird the edge for the job at first base. But as Yankees fans know, Bird has been a major disappointment to the team and franchise over the past three seasons.
Major setbacks with injuries and surgeries have occurred, and even when pronounced healthy, Bird has been unable to deliver the production the Yankees need from him on a consistent basis. Thus, the team can only wonder if his .344 batting average and off the charts .488 on-base percentage this Spring is real – or just another tease?
Bird’s persistence and dogged desire to put his mind and body into the rehab necessary to come back tell the Yankees all they need to know about his character. But as we know, there comes a time when the future is now, and the word potential becomes meaningless.
Young by age (26), Greg Bird is an old face to the New York Yankees. Showing again what the Yankees think of Bird, they more than doubled his salary to $1.2 million for the 2019 season. He will begin his first of three arbitration years in 2020, meaning that for all his time with the team, the Yankees still have plenty of control over Bird.
For the player whom Brian Cashman once described as the “best pure hitter in the Yankees organization”, if, given the chance, this will be it for Greg Bird.
Luke Voit – Applicant First Base Job
Luke Voit gets out of bed in the morning smashing base hits. His burst on the Yankee Stadium scene last season was intense and mind-boggling after coming to the team in a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals with international bonus slot money to the New York Yankees for Giovanny Gallegos and Chasen Shreve.
In only 39 games with the Yankees, Voit hit 14 home runs, drove in 33, and bit for a .333 average. Raising the question, of course, was that a fluke or the real thing?
Voit was on the Yankees radar, though, long before Brian Cashman could execute the trade. He was scouted and praised highly by the Yankee scouts who recommended him to Cashman. And, he’s put up credible numbers this spring.
Voit turned 28 in February, meaning the Yankees have control of him until 2025 when he will be 34 years old, making Voit rather unusual, to say the least.
A hitting machine much in the spirit of a Manuel Cabrera, the Yankees plainly saw what Voit did last season – down the stretch when they needed production the most. It is enough, though?
I look at it this way. If Gary Sanchez can play eight Spring Training games, managing only one extra-base hit and hit .227 – and still be the apple of the Yankee’s eye – then so can Greg Bird who – by default – gets the nod for the job at first base over Luke Voit.
Would Bird be my pick? No, because I’m of the persuasion that Bird needs a change of scenery and he has too much negative history with the Yankees. To Bird’s credit, most of that negativity stems from all the time lost to injuries – but you know what? – it’s still time lost when he hasn’t been there to help the team.
Voit, on the other hand, while older, is also hungrier. He was overlooked by the Cardinals, and this is his time to shine, proving they were wrong. That’s the kind of motivation that always works. Moreover, listening to an interview Voit gave MLB Radio on SiriusXM recently, he comes across as genuine, relaxed, and humorous, and not just saying the things he’s supposed to say.
The Yankees give Bird the nod over Voit for another reason. The Yankees lineup is stacked with right-handed hitters, especially with Didi Gregorius and possibly Aaron Hicks missing in the beginning stage of the season. Voit is a righty and Bird hits from the left side. Again by default, Bird gets the call.
These are the stories of a life in baseball…
Written by Steve Contursi, Editor, Reflections On Baseball
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