Adrian Gonzalez, whose signing with the Mets was made official on Thursday, has two aims.
The five-time All-Star made it clear that he plans to get the majority of the at-bats at first base this season and even said he has been told to expect that. But he said he also plans to be an active mentor for first-base prospect Dominic Smith, whom general manager Sandy Alderson called “obviously the first baseman of the future” on Wednesday.
“Speaking to Sandy and speaking to Mickey [Callaway, the manager], my role is going to be first baseman on the team and just be available off the bench in the games I don’t start,” Gonzalez said in a conference call. “I’m open and willing to do anything, obviously. One of my big, key points going into spring training is to work with Dominic on defense and just kind of the mindset and tell him about my experiences and everything I’ve done. I’m looking forward to that adventure with Dominic as well so I can help him become the best major-leaguer he can be in the future.”
Alderson didn’t quite declare Gonzalez the Opening Day first baseman on Wednesday. In fact, because the signing wasn’t official, he declined to speak about Gonzalez at all. What Alderson did say is that he’s excited about the options the Mets have at first, and he mentioned Smith, Wilmer Flores and even returning rightfielder Jay Bruce.
Gonzalez and Smith are lefthanded hitters and don’t play other positions, so the most likely scenario has the 35-year-old Gonzalez starting the season at first with Smith at Triple-A Las Vegas. That’s if Gonzalez is over the back problems that limited him to 71 games with the Dodgers in 2017.
“I feel really good right now,” he said. “I’ve been really focusing on doing everything for my back this offseason. Workouts have gone really well. I’ve been doing a lot more Pilates because the doctors told me that’d be really good for my back. I’ve been doing a lot more stretching, more conditioning, a lot of water activities, water aerobics and things like that. I’ve been feeling really good and it’s responding really well and I think for 2018 I’m going to continue to do that and it’ll be a good transition and I think my body’s going to respond well to it. I’m looking forward to doing everything I need to do so I can be healthy and be on the field.”
Gonzalez was available after being released by the Braves after a trade from the Dodgers. He is owed $22.4 million this season, but the Mets are responsible for only the major-league minimum of $545,000.
In his prime, Gonzalez was a premier lefthanded hitter. In 2016, he hit .285 with 18 home runs and 90 RBIs, and that was a down power year for him. In 2017, he hit .242 with three homers and 30 RBIs and lost his job to eventual NL Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger.
Gonzalez was not active for the Dodgers’ postseason run, which extended all the way to Game 7 of the World Series. He did not stay around the team, instead watching the first round from home and going to Italy with the family during the second round. Gonzalez did return for the World Series and watched the Dodgers’ Game 7 loss to the Astros from a suite at Dodgers Stadium.
Gonzalez said he was “a superfan” during the postseason and still kept in contact with his teammates.
Gonzalez also addressed recent comments by former Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine that Gonzalez was too opinionated and might have rubbed his teammates the wrong way when the two were together in Boston in 2012. Surprisingly, Gonzalez agreed.
“You know what? I think Bobby was in the right there,” Gonzalez said. “Going into that 2012, I heard a lot of people telling me I had to be more of a vocal leader . . . I do agree with Bobby — I think I did have a lot of opinions that year . . . I promise that is not who I am and that is not what I’m going to be with the Mets, because it’s not me.”
To make room on the 40-man roster for the signings of Gonzalez and Bruce, the Mets designated pitchers Chasen Bradford and Kevin McGowan for assignment.