Will Smith might be changing Dodgers' long-term perspective on contract talks

Philadelphia Phillies v Los Angeles Dodgers
Philadelphia Phillies v Los Angeles Dodgers / Katelyn Mulcahy/GettyImages

Hmm. Maybe it's time to halt all updates in the Race to Replace Dodgers Catcher Will Smith between Diego Cartaya and Dalton Rushing.

After all, if Smith continues to level up in 2023 and evolve from "one of the game's best catchers" to "the game's best catcher, who's also controlled through 2025," both men might go the way of Keibert Ruiz. Either that, or it's time for Rushing to get very acquainted with first base and DH.

The nature of the baseball beast is that, whether their team's record is 30-10 or 10-30, a fan is always somewhat focused on what's coming next. Sure, this 26-year-old might be the league's greatest at his position, but this 18-year-old at Low-A could be anything. He might even grow up to be the league's greatest at his position!

Smith is in a unique spot with the Dodgers, a team with one of baseball's annual best farm systems that could also choose to upgrade any position at any moment through a blockbuster trade. How long can a 28-year-old ex-first-rounder out of Louisville last, anyway, with so many alternatives?

For years, Smith has been viewed as "very good, but not good enough to commit to," even as he posted OPS+ marks of 127 and 123 in 2021 and 2022. Ruiz lost out; his timeline clashed with Smith's ascent, and the Dodgers chose to cash out their chips to bring Max Scherzer and Trea Turner west (good call).

Now, Smith is crescendoing at the dish. His .305 average would mark his highest in a 162-game season by 45 points. His .930 OPS/149 OPS+ outclasses his previous work -- hell, it outclasses most MVP candidates, and at a premium position to boot. If Smith is able to sustain this level of production (or something close to it) all season, would extending him really be out of the question in two years when he's still just 30?

Dodgers could extend Will Smith rather than trade him to clear path

The one thing Smith may never be is a framer; he ranks in only the 27th percentile among catchers this season. His work behind the dish will be determinative moving forward, especially with the Dodgers likely transitioning several rotation spots over the course of the next year (Bobby Miller, Gavin Stone ... Shohei Ohtani?). The silver lining, though, is that framing itself may be on its last legs. Someday, the automatic strike zone will crash the party. Not committing to a bat like Smith's because he struggles to steal strikes could look very foolish in 2025.

You know. Even more foolish than hoping a mystery box behind the plate can replace this level of elite production.

Add in the worrisome potential aftereffects of his recent concussion, and yes, there's still plenty for Smith to prove. Every fan knows that even if Smith sustains this all year, there's another hurdle remaining ahead of him, one that he can't cross until October.

If his playoff performance matches his regular-season evolution, though, the Dodgers nearly have no choice but to consider him a piece of their core rather than someone they can live without.