Welcome to the Mets, A-Gon
Close your eyes and allow yourself to be transported to a happier time in Mets history: the 2015 NLDS. The five-game series between the precocious Mets and the wily Dodgers went the distance and will go down as an all-time series victory for the Mets. Part of what makes postseason baseball so great is the perpetual anxiety associated with every game, inning, and pitch. Now, think back to your biggest wellspring of stress during that series. Was it former Met Justin Turner, who seemed to turn every pitch he swung at into a double in the gap? Was it Clayton Kershaw, who made the Mets — Daniel Murphy aside — look like a Triple-A lineup? Or perhaps you were like me, and the man who kept you up at night was first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. He punished the Mets in that series, finishing with a .316/.381/.526 slash line, and seemed to bang out a hit in every crucial moment.
On Saturday night, Bob Nightengale reported that the Mets signed Gonzalez to a major league contract, worth $545,000, adding depth to a position sorely in need of more production. Gonzalez almost certainly won't be the same player that the Mets faced in 2015, however there are reasons to believe that he can carve out an important role for himself on this team. After Lucas Duda was traded halfway through last season the Mets have struggled to find a player that can recreate his production at first base. Dominic Smith struggled mightily in that role, and this offseason the Mets seem to be switching gears and looking for more security at a position in which good hitting is crucial. This signing exemplifies just that, and so does the Jay Bruce one, as he can play first in a pinch and could ultimately find a home there when Michael Conforto returns from his shoulder injury. Gonzalez played in only 71 games last season due to multiple injuries to his back, including a herniated disc that shelved him for two months. While back injuries to a thirty-five-year-old are alarming, I'm willing to believe that Gonzalez's crappy 2017 has almost everything to do with them, and an offseason to recover will help him return to past season's form.
An easy comparison to make to Gonzalez's subpar 2017 would be Duda's injury-riddled 2016. Duda played in just 47 games that year due to a stress fracture in his lower back, and the injury seems to have tanked his stats for that season. Here's a comparison between Duda's 2016 and Gonzalez's 2017, both seasons ruined by back injuries:
2016 Duda: .229
2017 Gonzalez: .242
2016 Duda: .302
2017 Gonzalez: .287
2016 Duda: .412
2017 Gonzalez: .355
Duda gets the more significant edge in slugging percentage because of the type of hitter that he is, while Gonzalez has a slight edge in overall average. What's important to note is that in Duda's 75 games for the Mets in 2017 he bounced back for an impressive .246/.347/.532 slash line, much more comparable to his .244/.352/.486 line from 2015. If a similar revival were to happen to Gonzalez this year, then perhaps we could expect something closer to his .285/.349/.435 line from 2016. If that does happen to be the case, then the Mets would be getting an absolute bargain at the price that they're paying.
Even if Gonzalez has a second consecutive shitty year, his tenure with the Mets is merely a one-year flyer, and a $545,000 mistake won't sink the franchise. All it would mean is more opportunities at first for Bruce and Smith. Bruce is the most intriguing option at first because he's the best bet to recreate Duda's power at the position. Even Gonzalez's best-case scenario would fail to match Duda's power, and there have always been questions about Smith's power, as he sported a .131 isolated power in his four years in the minors, per Fangraphs. That hole in Smith's game could be an article on its own, but it's encouraging that the number rose every year, and he managed a .198 mark in his 49 major league games.
The Gonzalez and Bruce signings helped shore up a shaky position, and I'm confident a Gonzalez-Bruce-Smith committee at first will get the Mets through the season with enough production at the position. Gonzalez will have a chip on his shoulder after losing his starting job in LA and then being traded and eventually released, hopefully the Mets can cash in on a potential revival.