Adrian Gonzalez probably will get “first” dibs on starting at first base for the Mets in 2018.
Though the club still views Dominic Smith as part of the long-term equation at first, the Mets likely will give the veteran Gonzalez the job in spring training, according to a source familiar with the situation, while shuttling Smith to Triple-A Las Vegas to begin the season.
But that plan is contingent on the 35-year-old Gonzalez, who agreed to terms on a one-year contract last weekend, showing he is healthy after a season marred by back injuries with the Dodgers, who twice sent him to the disabled list.
Team officials remain unconvinced the 22-year-old Smith is ready for the major leagues after a disappointing six-week debut last season in which he posted a .198/.262/.395/ slash line with nine home runs and 26 RBIs.
It’s conceivable the Mets could carry both Gonzalez and Smith, but given the fact both only can play first base and are left-handed hitters, it’s more likely the team would create flexibility on the roster by not carrying both to start the season (Wilmer Flores can also play first).
Of course, plans can be disrupted in spring training. The Mets saw that last year, when Michael Conforto was ticketed to begin the season at Las Vegas because of concerns about playing time in a crowded outfield. But Juan Lagares was injured near the end of camp, and Conforto was placed on the roster and enjoyed a breakout season until sustaining a torn posterior capsule on a swing in September that necessitated surgery.
Gonzalez was released by the Braves last month after arriving in a trade with the Dodgers. The former All-Star is owed $22.4 million for this season, but the Mets are only responsible for the major-league minimum ($545,000), making Gonzalez a low-risk/high-reward option.
In 71 games with the Dodgers last season, he posted a .242/.287/.355 slash line with three homers and 30 RBIs. With Gonzalez on the DL last season, Cody Bellinger emerged as the Dodgers’ first baseman and earned NL Rookie of the Year honors.