The Mets didn’t spend half a million dollars on Adrian Gonzalez just so he can sit on the bench this year. The New York Post is reporting that the veteran first baseman is likely to be in the Opening Day starting lineup this March, while the intriguing youngster Dominic Smith is ticketed for Triple-A Las Vegas.
Both Gonzalez and Smith were very bad major league players last year, so why not just play the kid? Before suffering through back injuries last year, Gonzalez had a long track record of playing in at least 150 games in each season that dates back to 2006. And only one of those 10 campaigns featured an on-base percentage below .340. Gonzalez might not be the power hitter he used to be, but if he’s healthy again in 2018, the Mets can extract a lot of value from the minimum contract.
Smith still has more upside, and he’ll probably be more exciting to watch in 2018, but his 73 wRC+ in 49 big league games last year isn’t encouraging in the short term. With both Miami and Pittsburgh going into tank mode this winter, New York is closer to a Wild Card berth than many fans realize, so it makes sense to play the safer Gonzalez in April.
The real question is how quickly the Mets will pull the plug on the veteran if his struggles from 2017 continue. It’s easy to imagine a future in which the team continues to play Gonzalez while he plays like a broken-down version of himself, but for now, the former Dodger’s track record gives him the benefit of the doubt.