Adrian Gonzalez, the Mets’ new first baseman, played the most games in the major leagues from 2006 to 2016. Yet Gonzalez never reached the World Series, and when his Los Angeles Dodgers finally made it last fall, he watched most of it on television in a suite. A back injury had knocked him out of the postseason.
“Somewhat of a scout,” he said on Wednesday, describing his role for the World Series, which the Dodgers lost to the Houston Astros. “It was fun, it was exciting, and I enjoyed it. I wish the team would have won Game 7, but some things don’t always go perfect.”
Gonzalez had already lost his first-base job to Cody Bellinger, a slugging rookie, and the Dodgers had no use for a scout making $21.5 million. They dumped his salary last month in a trade with the Atlanta Braves, who persuaded Gonzalez to approve the deal by agreeing to release him once it became official.
Free agency led Gonzalez to the Mets, whose one-year, $545,000 deal with the team became official on Thursday. Gonzalez turns 36 in May, and if he hits as well as he did in 2016 — .285 with 18 homers, 90 runs batted in and a .349 on-base percentage — the Mets will have a bargain. If he does not, they will have assumed almost no risk.
The only danger, perhaps, is that Gonzalez could siphon at-bats from Dominic Smith, another left-handed first baseman. The Mets chose Smith 11th over all in the 2013 draft, and he made his debut in August with the Mets far out of contention. Smith, who turns 23 in June, hit .198 with nine home runs. In signing Gonzalez for just one year, the Mets did not block Smith as a long-term option at first.
“One of my big, key points, especially in spring training, is to work with Dominic on defense and just kind of the mind-set, and tell him all my experiences and everything I’ve done,” Gonzalez said on a conference call with reporters. “I’m looking forward to that adventure, and Dominic as well, so I can help him become the best major leaguer he can be.”
In doing so, Gonzalez could counter a reputation he earned with the Red Sox in 2011 and 2012. Gonzalez played well for Boston, but some considered him a divisive clubhouse presence. On Thursday, he said that after the Red Sox collapsed down the stretch in his first season there, he felt pressure to be vocal in 2012.
“I had a lot of opinions that year, but I don’t think it is who I am,” Gonzalez said, adding later: “I became a person that I didn’t want to be. After the 2012 season, when I was traded to L.A., I made a commitment to myself to not be somebody that somebody else wants me to be, and just be who I am.”
Though the Mets have signed right fielder Jay Bruce to a three-year, $39 million contract, they avoided an expensive deal for a free-agent first baseman like Eric Hosmer — a Keith Hernandez-style player who has excelled for Kansas City — or Logan Morrison, who hit 38 homers for Tampa Bay last season.
Despite his durability before last season, Gonzalez’s back injury is clearly concerning. He altered his training this winter, he said, and he feels strong.
“I’m so used to, my whole career, doing heavy weights and working out really hard,” Gonzalez said. “This year, it’s been a little bit of a change. I’m doing more Pilates, more stretching, a lot of water aerobics and things like that. I’m also focusing on conditioning and obviously my core program for my back. I’ve been feeling really good; it’s responding really well. For 2018, I’m going to continue to do that, and it’ll be a good transition.”