MILWAUKEE — Even doing everything he was asked, and doing it well, wasn’t enough to keep Dominic Smith in the majors.
The Mets sent Smith, arguably their best bench bat and many days their only lefthanded reserve, to Triple-A Syracuse on Friday to make room for shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, who they called up to avoid him opting out of his contract Thursday.
With NL Rookie of the Year candidate Pete Alonso emerging as the full-time first baseman, Smith had been limited to a pinch-hitting/defensive replacement role in the season’s opening month-plus. But he had performed well in that role, hitting .333 with a .459 OBP, and was blindsided by and mad at the Mets’ surprising roster tweak, a source said.
“This is a tough situation, to send down one of our best players,” general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said. “But I think our roster got better as a result of it.”
Smith, taking his three-day grace period after getting optioned, won’t join Syracuse until Tuesday.
The Mets’ move highlights questions about Smith’s longer-term future with the organization. With his status as the first baseman of the future (and present) usurped by Alonso, Smith offered multiple times in recent months to learn leftfield, which the Mets had him dabble with late last season, as a way to give the team more flexibility and improve his chances of playing.
Smith went as far as to practice in left during pregame warmups, at the suggestion of hitting coach Chili Davis. The Mets weren’t interested.
“Dom has a really bright future in major league baseball and particularly with us,” said Van Wagenen, who twice talked around what that Mets-specific future might look like. “He helped us win games in April, bottom line. And we believe he’s going to help us win games going forward.
“Dom's put himself in a really good position short-term and long-term in the organization…Even in that scenario when Pete's doing great, Dom has a role on the team. There's just obviously a lot of different moving pieces that have to be factored in.”
For now, that other moving piece is Hechavarria, who will make a pro-rated version of his $3-million salary for as long as he is in the majors. He is also eligible for $1-million bonuses for 100 days and 150 days on the active roster.
A glove-first shortstop who in recent years has also played third and second, Hechavarria slashed .348/.382/.446 in 25 Triple-A games. He said he didn’t make any noteworthy changes that led to that success. Hechavarria is a career .254/.290/.345 hitter in seven major-league seasons.
“He's had a lot of success at the big-league level,” Van Wagenen said. “What Hech does for us right now is give us a premium defender at multiple positions, which I think is valuable.We felt like in the immediate-term, the value that Hech could bring defensively outweighed some of the at-bats we would be losing in Dom.”
Perhaps most notably, Hechavarria gives the Mets a true shortstop to back up Amed Rosario, something the team hasn’t had for most of the past few weeks.
This season has not gone well for Rosario, who entering play Friday had a .268/.311/.393 slash line — below league-average offensive output — and has struggled in the field, including an NL-high seven errors and poor advanced defensive metrics.
“Rosario has been a key factor for why we’re still in this race,” Van Wagenen said. "I wouldn’t even characterize what Rosie's going through as a tough stretch.”
Notes & quotes: To make room for Hechavarria on the 40-man roster, the Mets moved reliever Drew Smith (Tommy John surgery) to the 60-day injured list … The Mets are sending Jed Lowrie (sprained left knee) to Syracuse starting Saturday as he continues his rehab assignment … Righthander Jeurys Familia is headed to the team’s facility in Port St. Lucie, Florida to rehabilitate his sore shoulder … Lefthander Justin Wilson (sore elbow) is with the team in Milwaukee, but Van Wagenen said it’s not clear if he will need a minors stint before rejoining the active roster.