Nationals Take a Chance with Dominic Smith

Former Met Dominic Smith was non-tendered by New York in November, a move that ended a nine-year stint with the organization. The 27-year-old entered the free agent market as one of the more interesting players available, thanks to his youth and prior success at the plate in 2019 and 2020. Smith seemed likely to join a team that could offer him an ample amount of time, and it looks like he has done just that. Dominic Smith is reportedly headed to the rebuilding Nationals on a one-year deal.

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A Look at Smith

A first-round pick by the Mets in 2013, it seemed likely for years that Dominic Smith would develop into an eventual starter in New York thanks to his high upside. But despite a big, powerful frame, Smith didn’t show much pop in the Minors until 2016. That season with Binghamton (AA), Smith cracked 14 home runs and 45 extra base hits over 130 games. A smooth approach at the plate, coupled with above-average defense, made the California native one of the game’s top prospects.

However, things didn’t click for Smith right away at the MLB level. From 2017-2018, Smith hit just .210/.259/.407 with 14 home runs over 105 games and below-average Zone Contact and Chase rates. Smith returned to the Minors in 2018, but did make it back to Mets a season later.

Upon his return to the MLB level, Smith saw time at both first base and left field. The move to left had more to do with the fact that Pete Alonso established himself as the everyday first baseman for the Mets, and one of the best in the game in general. Smith didn’t fit too well in left, as he posted a -3 Outs Above Average in the field. At the plate, though, Smith improved. Over 89 games, Smith recorded a .881 OPS and 10 home runs over 89 games.

Smith broke out in the shortened 2020 season, as he hit .316/.377/.616 with 10 home runs and 42 RBIs. The 27-year-old’s .993 OPS ranked as the eighth-best in MLB that season (min. 130 PA). Smith, however, failed to replicate those results in 2021. The California product recorded a below-average 83 OPS+ that season. The former Met his just .194 across 58 games last season, before being sent down to Syracuse for the remainder of the season. Smith, did, however, produce (.284/.367/.472 and 10 home runs in 54 games) while in AAA.

The 27-year-old has proven that he can produce at the MLB level in the past. While not a slugger, Smith has showcased the ability to drive the ball and does possess a fair amount of power. On the other hand, the first baseman has routinely posted below-average Chase% rates throughout his career. Smith will look to capitalize on an opportunity, as heads to a Nationals team that has nothing to lose with this pickup.

What it Means

Despite a brutal 2022 season for the Nationals, one position that proved to be a rare strength was first. Washington started the season with Josh Bell, who posted a top-15 OPS for the Nats up until the Trade Deadline. When Bell and Juan Soto were sent to San Diego in early August, journeyman Joey Meneses saw time at the position. The result? Meneses cracked 13 home runs and 34 RBIs after August 2, and posted the eleventh-highest OPS (.930) in all of baseball.

Meneses will be a regular once again for Washington in 2023, but the 30-year-old does have the ability to play multiple positions. Aside from 40 games at first, Meneses started 23 games in the outfield. That flexibility should offer Smith the chance to get time at his primary position.

As touched on briefly, this move comes with little risk for the Nationals. Washington gets a player who is still quite young at 27 years of age and possesses solid batting and defensive skills. While Smith may not be regarded as he once was, he could be a useful bat for a rebuilding Nationals squad.

It’s been a quiet offseason for Washington thus far, as expected. In a full rebuild, it was more likely that the Nationals would take chances on players like Smith, Stone Garrett, and Jeimer Candelario, all of whom are toolsy players and should factor in for regular action come next season.