The Cubs figure to be very active on the trade market over the next several days, though pretty much all the talk to this point has centered around who they will be moving. That may have shifted ever so slightly, however, with the report from Robert Murray of FanSided that the Cubs were one of two teams to have engaged with the Mets about first baseman Dominic Smith. The initial reaction to that news is probably a snarky comment about how of course they would target someone with -1.1 fWAR over the last two seasons and an overall -0.2 contribution.
I first glanced at this rumor with a skeptical side-eye because the 27-year-old Smith isn’t exactly the kind of fit the Cubs need as they re[whatever word Jed Hoyer approves for public consumption]. That said, he’s a lefty batter who has shown some pop — .243 ISO in 2019 and .299 in ’20 — and still has two years of club control via arbitration. So when we talk about threading the competitive needle by acquiring MLB-ready pieces rather than teenage prospects, Smith kinda-sorta falls into that category.
Used more often as a left fielder due to Pete Alonso‘s ascension to stardom, Smith is a natural first baseman and is capable of playing decent defense. Having the DH has allowed him to spend more time at first this year, though he’s served primarily in a bench role and was optioned to Triple-A for most of June. During his time with the Mets this season, he is batting .194 with a 67 wRC+ and no home runs in 152 plate appearances.
That control is still pretty limited relative to the Cubs’ current trajectory and Smith’s recent production indicates he’d be a lateral move at best from either Frank Schwindel or Alfonso Rivas, but maybe the Cubs see change-of-scenery upside. It’s also possible that he’s not so much a target as just a small piece in what would otherwise be a much bigger deal for, say, an All-Star catcher who would give the Mets a massive upgrade.
As I see it, the only way this move makes any sense for the Cubs is if they’re able to get an immediate bounce from Smith in order to build his offseason trade value or to provide a safety net for Matt Mervis. To the first point, a strong second half might allow Hoyer to flip Smith for a lottery ticket during the winter, maybe after his 2023 salary has been determined.
Mervis was just promoted to Triple-A and is a younger, cheaper left-handed hitter with more power who could be a legitimate dude moving forward. That’s far from a guarantee, however, so Smith could be an inexpensive — and somewhat redundant — insurance policy.
What it all gets down to is that we’re probably looking two or three layers deep when it comes to what the Cubs will be doing ahead of the August 2 deadline. We know they’re going to be moving several regulars, which will necessitate back-filling the roster with either prospects or pickups. And as we’ve seen in the past, they typically prefer to use the latter because, for lack of a softer phrase, they’re more expendable.
For me, the big takeaway is that the Cubs and Mets are apparently engaged in talks.
Update: The Mets have placed Smith on the 10-day IL retroactive to July 17 with a right ankle sprain. So now he’s underperforming and has an injury, making it that much more likely the Cubs will trade for him.