Late Saturday night the New York Mets made another splash in this year’s free agent market with their acquisition of 35-year-old Adrian Gonzalez. The five-time All-Star is bringing his talents to Queens on a one year $550,000 deal. Earlier this offseason, he was traded from the Dodgers to the Braves as a part of a salary dump move, later being designated for assignment.
2017 was a rough year for Gonzalez, back injuries limited the slugger to only 71 games. He struggled, hitting three homers with 30 RBI, while only hitting .242/.287/.355. His absence allowed young slugger Cody Bellinger to get a chance to play, later seeing the 1st baseman pull in an All-Star appearance and the National League Rookie of the Year award. What does his signing mean for the Amazin’s?
First off, the signing of Adrian Gonzalez should signal a spring competition for the Mets’ first base job. Youngster Dominic Smith had his first cup of coffee at the end of last season and was not exactly impressive. Smith was considered “Major League ready” as he lit up the stat sheets at their AAA affiliate. That did not translate to success at the Major League level as the 22-year-old hit nine home runs and drove in only 26 runs in his first 49 games while hitting a mere .198/.262/.395. This produced a lowly -1.2 WAR.
“He didn’t win it in September, let’s put it that way,” Alderson said, according to Mike Puma of the New York Post back in November. He was also reported saying that Smith would need to put a stronger emphasis on fitness. This subtle but direct message has seemed to motivate Smith as it was reported that he was 12 pounds thinner at the beginning of December.
The acquisition of Gonzalez was not made out of necessity, it was a move made for protection. Gonzalez is a former All-Star who is only getting paid the Major League minimum, if they see that Smith is not ready to play every day, they have an option to anchor the position. The Mets could send Smith to AAA, or just start him there in April and see what they can get out of their aging star.
Gonzalez is only one season removed from posting a 2.1 WAR and two seasons removed from posting a 4 WAR. Back injuries are tricky as they can easily reoccur, (this is what kept Gonzalez out of the lineup for most of the 2017 season), but barring a major regression, the Mets should find themselves with a very serviceable player. It all comes down to the 35-year-old’s health.
If Smith shows that he needs some extra seasoning at AAA, the Mets recent acquisitions could help them give Gonzalez regular rest as a means of trying to keep him healthy. Right fielder Jay Bruce can slide over to first when needed, allowing the Mets to plug Juan Lagares or Brandon Nimmo into the lineup in the outfield. Infielders Wilmer Flores and T.J. Rivera have shown an ability to hold their own at the position as well. Neither one of these configurations provides the club with suitable offensive options, but they are both sufficient enough to spare Gonzalez from having to play every day.
More importantly, the signing of Adrian Gonzalez is a signal from management that the team is all in on winning this season. Fred and Jeff Wilpon have always shown an unwillingness to make the big moves that would push the team over the top. Even though the signing of Gonzalez is an inexpensive acquisition, it does not exactly make sense on paper. It is a move to give the team depth and talent with a very low risk and high reward. Common sense would state that the Mets would give Smith every option necessary to succeed. He is the team’s future first baseman and was not “overmatched” in his first taste of the majors last season. The acquisition allows the Mets to be comfortable with their options as they try to get back to the top of the NL East standings in 2018.
To me, Smith was just inconsistent and inefficient. He struggled to get on base consistently and to hit for an acceptable average. Smith has shown the ability to hit for average at every level that he has played at and it is hard to imagine that it would not translate at the Major League level. Altogether this seems to hint that Smith will indeed start the season in AAA. He is only 22 and there is no reason to rush him, especially if Gonzalez can show that he is healthy and still serviceable.
Of course, this could all change if Smith’s recent show of motivation translates to better on-field production. This is still yet to be seen as we can only speculate, our questions will soon be answered as we wait for Spring Training.