NEW YORK -- The Mets may still consider Dominic Smith their first baseman of the future, but he is no longer their first baseman of the present.The team finalized a deal Thursday to assume the last year of Adrian Gonzalez's contract, with plans to give him significant playing time. Though
NEW YORK -- The Mets may still consider Dominic Smith their first baseman of the future, but he is no longer their first baseman of the present.
The team finalized a deal Thursday to assume the last year of Adrian Gonzalez's contract, with plans to give him significant playing time. Though Gonzalez is due to make $22.4 million next season, the Mets will be responsible for just the league minimum. His previous employers, the Braves and Dodgers, will pick up the balance.
"For me, all my memories of the National League, going to Citi Field and even Shea Stadium before that, the Mets fans have always been incredible," Gonzalez said. "They've always been a part of the franchise and very passionate, and I just love the atmosphere that they bring each and every day. I'm so happy to be able to play behind them."
A five-time All-Star, Gonzalez has finished in the top 10 in MVP voting three times, leading the American League with 213 hits in 2011 with the Red Sox. As recently as 2016, Gonzalez hit .285 with 18 homers, playing in at least 156 games for the 11th straight season. But he struggled through a back injury last year, batting just .242 with three home runs and a .642 OPS in 71 games. Entering his age-36 season, it is reasonable to wonder how much production Gonzalez can give the Mets.
To that end, Gonzalez said he has spent this winter focused on his back, eschewing heavy lifting in favor of stretching exercises, Pilates and water aerobics.
"I feel really good right now," Gonzalez said. "Workouts have gone really well. … It's responding really well. And I think for 2018, I will continue to do that."
Questions also loom regarding Gonzalez's leadership abilities after he did not attend all of the Dodgers' World Series games in October -- an action that Gonzalez colored as a joint decision amongst himself, the Dodgers' front office and Major League Baseball. The Mets hope Gonzalez, who also received significant media criticism during his years in Boston, can nonetheless be a positive presence in the clubhouse -- particularly during Spring Training, when they expect him to be a mentor for Smith.
It is an imperfect situation; with Gonzalez in the fold, Smith could be ticketed for Triple-A Las Vegas to start the season, though it's also still possible he can win the first-base job outright with a strong spring. Both are left-handed hitters, limiting the opportunities for them to split playing time.
As a rookie, Smith hit .198 with nine home runs in 49 games, earning a dash of criticism from general manager Sandy Alderson. The GM later backed off those comments, but Smith nonetheless took them and others to heart; as of mid-December, he had dropped 12 pounds with an offseason focus on exercise and nutrition.
"One of my big, key points especially going into Spring Training is to work with Dominic on defense," said Gonzalez, a four-time Gold Glove Award winner. "I'll tell him about my experiences and everything I've done. So I'm looking forward to that adventure with Dominic as well, so I can help him become the best Major Leaguer he can be."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook.