I'm trying very hard to keep an open mind and see the silver lining in the Mets signing Adrian Gonzalez to a one-year, league minimum contract.
The fact is that he's just one year removed from having a .784 OPS. And, while there's probably a less than five-percent chance he ever hits at that level again, he doesn't have to win an MVP or even bat .250 to provide meaningful, long-lasting value to the Mets.
In late-December, when at Citi Field for a team event, 1B prospect Dominic Smith looked to be in significantly better shape than he was at the end of last season. I assume he's continuing to keep up his conditioning and new diet and is going to impress everyone when he gets to Spring Training. Nevertheless, signing Gonzalez signals the strong possibility that Smith starts next year in Triple-A.
It's certainly possible Dom performs like a totally new player, ripping the ball and continuing to play free and easy in the field. In that case, the Mets could also cut Gonzalez at nearly no cost (considering they'll only be paying him the league minimum salary) and let Smith start Opening Day.
With or without Gonzalez, the April roster will also include Wilmer Flores and Jay Bruce, both of whom can also play first base.
Speaking of Wilmer, it's worth noting that Gonzalez, 35, struggled big time against left-handed pitching last season. However, despite an overall weak season and getting zero power due to a back injury, he still hit .255 in 202 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers. Wilmer crushes lefties, so the duo could result in a decent platoon with Smith getting a tad more seasoning in Las Vegas.
In the meantime, I'm eager to watch Gonzalez work with Smith in St. Lucie...
I've heard the rumors and seen the reports indicating Gonzalez is not the most friendly guy in the clubhouse. But, I think that's inaccurate. Instead, the way I've heard it, he is a proud guy, confident in his ability and opinions, and his ego can easily rub other veterans the wrong way, which is what h happened in Boston, where he was infiltrating a tight-knit group.
In Los Angeles, West Coast friends say Gonzalez got along fine with 24 of the team's 25 players. His big gripe had more to do with Yasiel Puig and the team's owners than anyone else...
I buy this because people who played with and coached him in Miami and San Diego say he was an outstanding presence and a wealth of knowledge, even as a young kid. He has future coach or manager written all over him, so long as people are willing to listen and view him in that light.
They describe him as a low key, intelligent, professional guy that is very passionate about playing the game 'the right way.' He expects his teammates to be the same way, which his former Red Sox manager, Bobby Valentine, told the NY Post may fall on deaf ears if he isn't producing on field.
The thing is, this isn't Boston, 2011, acquiring a 28-year-old Gonzalez to replace an icon at first base, produce 5.0 WAR and help them win their third ring in seven years. Instead, the Mets and everyone associated with the Mets knows what they're getting, which is a 35-year-old veteran on the back nine of his career, who is full of experience and potential leadership for a young team in need of a stop-gap first baseman that has a strong reputation.
Frankly, I have a feeling new Mets manager Mickey Callaway is going to appreciate having Gonzalez in camp, if for no other reason than he can add a veteran voice ... especially for Dom Smith.
It's possible Smith is frustrated by news that Gonzalez was inked to a big-league contract. However, I hope he is smart enough to realize he can still win the job and do it while getting the opportunity to gain a ton of wisdom and insight about playing first base. Gonzalez may seem washed up now, but no one can take away the lessons learned from playing nearly 1,800 games at first base in the big leagues, suiting up for five All-Star games, seven postseason series, reaching base 3,000 times, and winning two Silver Slugger and four Gold Glove Awards.
Smith, 22, has never played alongside and been able to watch such an accomplished first baseman standing 10 feet next to him. It stinks that Dom may need to start the year in Triple-A. However, it's very possible he one day looks back on this spring and tells the story of getting to learn from Gonzalez, and how it wasn't until he applied that knowledge in Vegas that his big-league career took off...
In other words, it would not surprise me to see Smith start 2018 in Vegas, with Michael Conforto beginning the season on the disabled list and with Gonzalez starting at first base for the Mets. Then, not long after Conforto comes back from the disabled list, Gonzalez is designated for assignment and Smith comes up and excels.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. He recently left his position as Executive Editor and Dir. of Digital Content for SNY.TV to help sports brands build their own digital content businesses...