The Mets picked up Adrian Gonzalez in order to buy Dominic Smith more development time in the minors -- a prescient move as Smith missed most of Spring Training due to injury. But Gonzalez has struggled so far. And though the team has a good record, it's questionable how long they can carry this kind of a hole at first base.
There are a few silver linings to Gonzalez's start. His .345 OBP is solid and he has more walks than strikeouts. His batting average is under .240, but he has timed his few hits well, knocking in multiple key runs. He has clearly improved over his injury-filled 2017, where he amassed just a .642 OPS.
Compared to last year, his .737 OPS is quite serviceable, but he is missing a key aspect of his game -- the power hitting. He has two home runs and one double on the year and that's a hard level of production to carry at first base, which is still an offense-first position around the league. Carrying a low-power first baseman, something Smith may turn out to be, is possible, but only if he brings value in a high average and solid defense -- two things we are not seeing from Gonzalez so far.
A hot start for the team has bought them some time, but they need to start making plans for how to transition away from Gonzalez. In limited action, Wilmer Flores has performed very well, with an OPS over .800 and a strikeout rate under 10 percent. Not only that, but most of his damage has come against right-handed pitching. Over the last few years, Flores has increasingly moved away from his former profile as a platoon-only lefty-masher and into a more well-rounded player. And he is making a strong argument to see more time. With Flores on the roster, Gonzalez certainly should see few if any starts against left-handers, who he has struggled against throughout his career.
A combination of Gonzalez, as long as he doesn't decline further, and Flores, who should be given increasing playing time if he sustains his current level of production, can carry the team perhaps even as far as the All-Star Break. At that point, the Mets should begin to have a better sense of where Smith is in his growth as a player. Early results in Triple-A are promising as he has an .824 OPS in 70 plate appearances. He is drawing a lot of walks and hitting a lot of doubles, but has been a bit strikeout prone -- something the Mets will have to see improve before he'll get the call.
In the meantime, there are a few things Gonzalez needs to do to keep his job as starting first baseman. He has to keep up the walks because it's his strongest skill set at this point in time. But we also need to see more power from him. Even just getting to warmer weather may make a difference, but the Mets can't keep a first baseman on the roster if he can't hit for at least league average power. Gonzalez also needs to show a little more glove in the field. The former Gold Glover is coming up on his 36th birthday and is not as spry as he once was, but his range is a problem -- especially with Asdrubal Cabrera manning second base. Where Gonzalez falls short in runs created, he can make up some ground with runs saved.
The Mets have the luxury of waiting to see how things unfold for all of Gonzalez, Flores, and Smith over the coming months. But first base is a key position for a playoff contender. And while it's doubtful that the current incarnation of Adrian Gonzalez can fill that spot long-term, he may be able to bridge the gap to the next generation of talent.
Maggie Wiggin (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Archive Posts) has been a Mets fan since birth and a MetsBlog contributor since 2013. She loves throwing hard and hitting hard and hates the DH. When baseball is out of season, she fills her days with data analysis and evaluation and patiently waits for Spring