The Rays and Royals “could have interest”in free agent slugger Dominic Smith, according to Mike Puma of the New York Post. Smith was recently non-tendered by the Mets after a disappointing campaign in 2022.
Two years ago such a move would have been unfathomable after Smith slashed .316/.377/.616 with ten home runs in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, earning down-ballot NL MVP votes for his efforts. However, it’s been a tough slide for the 27-year-old who’s been worth a combined -1.1 fWAR in the two seasons since.
The beginning of that slide came last year, when Smith played through a partially torn labrum in his shoulder and hit just .244/.304/.363 with 11 home runs. His struggles continued into 2022 as he battled for regular playing time, he ended up splitting time between Triple-A and the big leagues. With the Mets, he’d finish up hitting .194/.276/.286 without a single home run, good for a wRC+ of just 67. He went a lot better at Triple-A, slashing .284/.367/.472 with ten home runs in 54 games.
The Mets’ decision to non-tender him drew to a close and underwhelming time in Queens for a player who was drafted 11th overall in 2013 and regularly featured on top-100 prospect lists. His combined 150 wRC+ over the 2019 and 2020 campaigns showed Smith had the talent to excel at the highest level, but emergence of Pete Alonso blocked Smith at first base and he had to spend a fair bit of time in the outfield, where he graded out poorly.
MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz pegged Smith for a $4MM salary in arbitration, so given his age, talent and low-cost it’s not surprising to see a couple of smaller market teams linked to him. The severe drop in power since his shoulder problems is a big concern, but he had a strong line at Triple-A and it’s possible he’d benefit from the regular playing time he often found hard to come by in New York.
For the Rays, the need at first base is obvious after they traded Ji-Man Choi to the Pirates early in the off-season. Smith could take over as Tampa Bay’s everyday first baseman, while filling in in the outfield and at designated hitter when needed.
It’s less obvious in Kansas City, where the emergence of rookie Vinnie Pasquantino at first base makes the addition of another left handed slugger less important. Of course, the Royals don’t currently have a clear DH option, and Smith could well spend time there while spelling Pasquantino at first base from time-to-time, but they do also have left handed hitter Ryan O’Hearn, and Salvador Perez will likely spend time at the DH spot moving forward, so there’s not a clear need for a hitter like Smith.
There’s no guarantee Smith would perform like a starter for either team, even if they’re willing to offer him regular playing time. However, there’s plenty of upside for the acquiring team, which would also control him via arbitration for the 2024 season, while the likely insignificant financial cost would make parting ways a bit more palatable if Smith were to continue his struggles to begin the season.