The New York Mets are getting an All-Star caliber bat in Adrian Gonzalez at a bargain price. He will have to rediscover his 2016 form while avoiding the problems that plagued him in 2017.
Adrian Gonzalez, signed by the New York Mets off the scrapheap in January, has seen his career take something of a nosedive in the last year. He was penciled in as the starting first baseman for a contending Los Angeles Dodgers ballclub after a solid 2016 when he knocked in 90 runs and showcased a .784 OPS with 18 bombs in his age 34-season.
Twenty-seventeen, however, was a nightmare.
Back problems happened. Then Cody Bellinger happened. With Gonzalez on the shelf, Bellinger took over the first base duties and went on an ungodly tear. Despite not playing until April 25, he hit 39 HRs, drove in 97 runs, finished with a .933 OPS, and won Rookie of the Year honors rendering him superfluous. Gonzalez (-1.2 WAR) was neither comfortable nor healthy hitting a below-league-average .242. with three HR and 30 RBIs in 242 AB. The A-Gon era was over at Chavez Ravine.
Due $22 million and the Dodgers looking to avoid the luxury tax, they dealt him to the Atlanta Braves in the offseason, who quickly granted him his unconditional release with All-Star Freddie Freeman firmly entrenched at first base.
So, Gonzalez, fresh off the previous three-year-stretch where he averaged 24 dingers, 99 RBIs, with a .811 OPS over 158 games played while winning a silver slugger award and making an All-Star team found himself on the proverbial scrap heap looking for a major league job.
That’s when the Mets came calling.
It seemed like the perfect fit.
The Mets scooped him up. After all, the price was indeed right. The Braves are responsible for the remainder of that $22 million owed to A-Gon minus the league minimum.
Dom Smith, who was called up after impending free-agent 1B Lucas Duda was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays, struggled mightily with his first taste of big league pitching and failed to show he belonged. The lefty hit below the Mendoza line (.198) and his glove failed to live up to his reputation. While he hit nine home runs all-in-all, he was good for -1.1 WAR in almost 200 AB.
Smith has yet to prove he can hit at the big-league level on a regular basis. Gonzalez has more than proven that fact.
While there are red-flags—he is coming off injury entering his age 36-season—Gonzalez is a proven commodity on both sides of the diamond.
The notion that defense is an afterthought at first—an anathema to anyone who watched 11-time winner and current Met analyst Keith Hernandez—is a fallacy. Solid first base play saves infield errors and runs. Moreover, one cannot lose a step they never possessed. While slow afoot, Gonzalez is known as a slick fielder, winning four Gold Gloves over his career, beating out the likes of Paul Goldschmidt as recently as 2014, when he finished 7th in the NL MVP voting.
Gonzalez also has shown the ability to be productive from both sides of the plate. While over his career he has a .890 OPS against right-handed pitching, Gonzalez has a respectable .752 OPS over the course of his career against southpaws. In other words, he is not a platoon player. While he has far more power against righties, .519. slugging, he still is above league average against lefties with a .419 slugging percentage and a 106 wRC.
Yet make no mistake the Mets are taking the chance that Gonzalez can still hit and will provide much-needed power on the left-side of the infield. GM Sandy Alderson brought in New Jersey native RH Todd Frazier, as a third baseman who can also play first, as can Wilmer Flores.
Bottom line, the Mets are taking a flyer on a professional hitter coming off an injury-plagued year that cost him his job while doling out little as far as investment. Since breaking in with the Padres in 2006, the former first-overall-pick has shown himself to be a consistent lefty power bat. Over his 14-year career, he has knocked in 100-runs seven times. He was productive in San Diego. He was productive in Boston. He was productive in Los Angeles until last season.
While analysts often discount past performance, Gonzalez has a track record upon which to go. He was an All-Star caliber bat for a decade and prior to 2017 showed no decline. In 2016 he hit 18 HR and knocked in 90 runs with a .784 OPS in pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium. Each of the three prior years he had an OPS over .800.
Gonzalez should provide the Mets with solid first-base play on an everyday basis if healthy and give them another proven bat in the middle of their order who can drive in runs in big spots
To ask Gonzalez to be the same All-Star caliber player in his late thirties might be asking too much but to see him as a potential middle-to-late-in-the-order bat is not beyond the pale of reality. Gonzo was a productive hitter until last season and there is no reason why, if healthy he wouldn’t regain at least a modicum of the form he displayed over the course of his career.