A cynic – like myself – could have joked during Howie Rose’s introduction of the team before the Mets 9-4 win on Opening Day over the Cardinals that Adrian Gonzalez wasn’t just the Mets newest first baseman, but also the player most likely to be cut by the team at the beginning of May.
Think about it. The Mets are paying Gonzalez the league minimum. He’s 35 and coming off the worst season of his career, after he hit .242 with three homers and 30 RBI for the Dodgers last season.
Heck, the Dodgers gave him incentives to get traded to the Braves this offseason, after refusing the deal a few times. And Atlanta proceeded to cut the first baseman, eating over $21 million, with the Dodgers kicking in $4.5 million to ease the Braves’ pain.
With possible candidates like Dom Smith, Wilmer Flores and even Jay Bruce to play first, the Mets can easily just cut Gonzalez if things go south.
In the business, we call this: Low risk and high reward.
Today though, the former Dodger made Sandy Alderson look like a genius going 2-3 with two walks. He scored a run and drove one in.
Already he earned the $545,000 the Mets are paying him.
“My numbers have been there when I am healthy,” Gonzalez said to reporters during Spring Training. “If I am healthy, I know I’m the right guy to be out there.”
Here’s the thing though. No one is expecting the Gonzalez of 2008 or 2011 to reappear, when he was one of the most feared batters in the league and in the Mets lineup, he doesn’t even have to be the first option. Instead, Gonzalez is a cog in the lineup with maybe four or five other players who are the options before him.
The Mets have made moves like this before with veteran players, especially on their better clubs. In 2006, Jose Valentin came out of nowhere to nail down the second base job and the team went to the playoffs. And in this day and age of payroll constraint, the Mets need moves like this to win.
Without that pressure of being the main bat in the lineup, Gonzalez may flourish this season. Unlike Lucas Duda, whom he is replacing at first, Gonzalez is a very credible glove out there and produces more than the all or nothing power Duda displayed.
He can be a very complete player if he stays healthy and his skills haven’t eroded as he approaches his 36th birthday on May 8.
All of this is very good news for Met fans. Everyone – including Gonzalez – knows he’s not the long-term answer, but the Mets aren’t looking for their future first baseman. Instead they need one that produces now.
Of course, this is going to be a very long season and one Opening Day win does not a season make. All you have to do is look at last season when Syndergaard led the way on the opener and it was all downhill from there.
But if first impressions were needed then Gonzalez passed the test and things are looking pretty safe at the club’s biggest question mark position coming out of the spring.
This low risk and high reward move certainly paid off today. Let’s see if Gonzalez can keep it up over the course of six months.
He will then silence even the most hardened cynics, like myself.