Despite pleads from baseball purists, National League teams now feature a designated hitter in their lineups year-round. Though many were staunchly opposed to the new rule, one NL team appeared set to benefit from the change, at least on paper.
The New York Mets were a defensively incompetent team from 2017-2021. Often fielding players out of position in an effort to get their big bats in the lineup. With the implementation of the designated hitter, the Mets would no longer have to run Dom Smith out to left field. No longer watch as Robinson Cano, and his 2-inch vertical have soft line drives sail over his head. And no longer hold their breath on every ground ball hit to JD Davis at third base.
Entering the season, those three names- Smith, Cano, and Davis- were the likeliest candidates to take the majority of the DH at-bats for the 2022 Mets. In his first 41 at-bats of the season, the 39-year-old Cano returning from his year-long PED suspension in 2021 performed about exactly as was expected. Cano hit .195, including 11 strikeouts, before he was cut.
The Mets made it clear they were handing the DH reins to Dom Smith and JD Davis. Smith, the former 1st-round pick of the Mets, showed glimpses of his pedigree in 2019 and 2020. But so far this year, Smith has a slash of just .189/.274/.243 (.517 OPS). He has not homered in nearly a full calendar year. Meanwhile, Davis, who popped 22 home runs his first year with the Mets in 2019, has hit just 12 in his last 155 games (’20-’22). He’s slashing .188/.296/.290 (.586 OPS) this season.
Needless to say, what might be a strength of this team entering the season, has become a gaping black hole in the Mets lineup. Clearly, the Mets’ idea of having three DH’s, in reality, meant that they had no DH at all. But this weekend in Colorado, the team may have gotten a first-hand audition of one.
CJ Cron is in his 8th big league season. After signing a minor-league deal with the Rockies last year, Cron clubbed 28 home runs and 31 doubles for the club in 2021. He was on base at a .375 clip and had a career-high .905 OPS. As a reward, the Rockies brought Cron back this year on a 2-year deal worth $14.5 MM dollars.
So far this year, Cron has picked up where he left off. The former Angel has 11 home runs and a slash line of .329/.375/.619 (OPS .994). He’s good for a 2.0 WAR and 168 OPS+ on the season. This weekend, Cron hit a two-run home run off Trevor Williams in the first inning on Saturday and was 5/13 overall in the series vs the Mets.
Cron also has excellent career numbers against left-handers, something the Mets as a team have struggled with all year long. Cron’s career average is 22 points higher against lefties than righties, and his OPS sits at .854 vs southpaws as compared to .789 vs righties. The Mets as a team entering play this weekend were hitting just .213 vs left-handers with an OPS of .653.
While Cron’s prodigious power and numbers vs lefties would be a great fit in the Mets DH spot, he doesn’t come without concerns. As is the case with most Rockies sluggers before him, Cron’s numbers may be inflated by playing half his games at Coors Field. In 2021, Cron hit nearly 100 points lower in average on the road as compared to home. He hit 19 of his 28 homers at home and had an OPS over 300 points higher in Colorado than on the road.
This year it’s been more of the same for Cron, who is hitting .211 in 15 road games with 2 homers, vs .398 with 9 homers in the Rockies’ 25 home games.
While the Mets should be concerned about trading for a player with such contrasting home and road splits, it’s worth noting that Cron has a .276/.383/.517 slash line at Citi Field in 34 career plate appearances, including 2 home runs.
Given the state of the Rockies, the team should be looking to turn a veteran player enjoying a career year into a return that features prospects. Not helping their cause, though, are his nasty splits and the fact that he is under contract for not only the remainder of this year but next as well.
Looking across town, Joey Gallo is a perfect example of a player traded that was under team control for multiple years and simply has not fit in with his new club. Rumors have even begun circulating that the Yankees may well look to trade the struggling outfielder before the season is over.
With that being the case, it may perfectly play into the Mets’ hands. The team perhaps can center a deal around Dom Smith, who twice now and as recently as last week, has stated that he would like to be an everyday player. Smith, under team control through 2025, could provide the Rockies a long-term solution at first base and in a ballpark where his sweet left-handed swing might finally blossom. For the Mets, it’s a risk- but with minimal production coming from a position that is meant to serve as a spot for sluggers, Cron may just fit the bill in the right deal.