Trying to Rationalize the Adrian Gonzalez Signing

I am a diehard Mets fan. If you ask anyone about my baseball allegiance, they will tell you that I am an unconditional supporter of the New York Mets. Just because that is true, though, does not mean that I can’t be critical of the team.

With all of that being said, I can only find one logical reason that the Mets would ink 5-time all-star Adrian Gonzalez: money. This is, unfortunately, not the first time we have seen the Mets’ ownership make decisions solely on a financial basis. Though I hope it is the last time the Wilpons make a decision based only on money, I’m not optimistic that that will be the case.

Just last season, veteran catcher Rene Rivera was placed on revocable waivers and claimed by the Cubs. As opposed to pulling Rivera back and trying to get a low-tier prospect or some cash from the Cubs, the Mets just gave him away. What did they get in return? Salary relief in the form of just over 420,000 dollars. Essentially, the Mets preferred to have less than the minimum salary in cash for the remainder of the 2017 season as opposed to having a veteran catcher who would be not only a welcome defensive option in the Mets’ lineup but also a valuable clubhouse asset. It seems that the Gonzalez decision is a financially-based one as well.

Let me first dismiss the notion that Gonzalez was brought in to mentor youngster and former top-100 prospect Dominic Smith. I’m not going to argue that a mentor for Smith would be a bad thing because that would be foolish, but Gonzalez is certainly not the guy to get the job done. Just because a player is an elder statesman (Gonzalez is 35) does not make them a capable mentor. Gonzalez seems like someone who would be a clubhouse cancer, not a positive presence. This past postseason, when the Dodgers informed Gonzalez that he would not be a part of the postseason roster, he left the team to go help his wife move her things and get settled in Italy as opposed to staying with the team. After he returned for the World Series (he still was not on the roster), his presence on the field prior to games two and three was apparently not welcome by players according to this LA Times article. This is evidence that Gonzalez is more of a clubhouse cancer than a welcome presence.

Gonzalez’s 2017 postseason antics are not the first instance in which he has not carried himself as a team player. On several occasions during and after Gonzalez’s Red Sox tenure, he had been noted as a poor leader and a negative clubhouse presence. According to this Boston Globe article, players were generally never looking to Gonzalez for leadership. Former Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia even went so far as to say that Gonzalez was “not that guy” when asked who the leaders of the clubhouse were. Salty also dismissed the notion that Boston was a toxic environment, as Gonzalez and former teammate Carl Crawford insinuated in their comments.

After the Red Sox’s infamous 2011 collapse in which they entered September with a nine-game division lead and failed to make the playoffs, Gonzalez failed to take responsibility for the team missing the postseason. This Bleacher Report article goes into more depth about Gonzalez’s comments, but here’s one quote that I think really sums up his attitude toward the game and winning in that moment:

“I’m a firm believer that God has a plan and it wasn’t in his plan for us to move forward…We play too many night games on getaway days and get into places at four in the morning. This has been my toughest season physically because of that. We play a lot of night games on Sunday for television and those things take a lot out of you.”

–Adrian Gonzalez, 2011

So much for being a team player, right? Gonzalez goes so far as to blame ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, the MLB schedulers, and even God before he holds himself accountable for his play. For reference, here’s what Mets team captain David Wright said about the team’s 2007 collapse (taken from this New York Times article):

“It’s obviously painful. It hurts. But at the same time, we did it to ourselves. It’s not like it blindsides us. We gradually let this thing slip away. In all honesty, we didn’t deserve to make the playoffs.”

–David Wright, 2007

Wright is widely regarded throughout the game as one of the best leaders and clubhouse presences. Here, he takes the blame for the team’s shortcomings in 2007 and holds himself and the rest of the team accountable for their performance. Basically, Wright’s comment here is the polar opposite of Gonzalez’s after the Red Sox’s 2011 collapse.

Gonzalez has shown a trend over his career of not only being a bad team player but also blaming others for his failures. Not exactly the kind of guy I think anyone would want to mentor Dominic Smith.

This, however, isn’t the only reason the Gonzalez signing was a bad one. If Gonzalez can’t be a mentor (he can’t), then the only reason he’s on the team is to play baseball. Unfortunately, it seems that he can’t do that terribly well either. Last season was the first season since 2010 where Gonzalez registered negative defensive runs saved and a negative ultimate zone rating. It was the second straight season where he posted a negative defensive rWAR. His skills at first base are declining, and it does not make sense to put a below-average 35-year-old at first base when the team could just as easily put a 22-year-old blue-chip prospect at first who has the chance of developing into a valuable team asset.

Gonzalez’s poor performance doesn’t end there, though. Last season he posted his worst walk rate in five seasons and worst swinging strike rate in 10 seasons. He also put up a 69 wRC+, good for the lowest wRC+ he has had in any full season he has spent in the majors (he was on the disabled list for part of the season, but didn’t spend any of it in the minors). He also put up career-worsts in OPS, fWAR, and isolated power. In short, his 2017 was bad. Some of this can be attributed to his injuries, but some of it surely has to be due to old age, especially considering that his fWAR has decreased in each of the past four seasons (went incrementally from a 3.6 fWAR in 2014 to a -1.1 fWAR in 2017).

Given that the Mets were willing to trot guys like Jose Reyes, who triple-slashed .246/.315/.413 (4% below league average), out for 145 games, I can’t imagine why they would not be willing to let Dom Smith endure some growing pains in the majors this upcoming season. I understand that the Mets may try to contend this year, but the negatives of Gonzalez in the form of his clubhouse presence may outweigh the positives of a potential bounce-back (which, though possible, seems improbable).

I understand that it’s a relatively low-risk investment given that the Mets are shelling out only about $500,000 to Gonzalez for the season. The cost of the investment, however, is found more in the playing time that Smith will be losing at the major league level. The Mets were willing to stick with Smith for nearly 200 plate appearances in 2017, why give up now? Smith has nowhere to go but up.

Last season, among players with at least 180 PA, Smith ranked tied for 68th (out of 366 players) in hard-hit percentage. He was above guys like Gary Sanchez, Robinson Cano, George Springer, Joey Votto, and Josh Donaldson, just to name a few notable guys. 68th out of 366 puts Smith squarely in the top 20% of all players in the major leagues in hard-hit percentage in 2017 (81st percentile, to be exact). Hitting the ball hard does not necessarily guarantee success, but the fact that Smith carried a .218 batting average on balls in play (5th-worst of any of the 366 hitters with 180 PA) speaks volumes to how unlucky he was. I fully expect Smith’s paltry .198/.262/.395 triple-slash from 2017 to rise to a respectable level this upcoming season, but he will only get the opportunity to do that if the Mets give him a chance to play. Signing Adrian Gonzalez is not the way to help Smith’s career along. And given Gonzalez’s history of clubhouse antics, I’m not sure he even deserves a locker in the Mets’ 2018 clubhouse.

(Image Credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images via NY Daily News)

17 thoughts on “Trying to Rationalize the Adrian Gonzalez Signing

  1. You were probably the same cynically loser who said signing Reyes to a minimum deal in 2016 was bad for the team. And he helped carry us to the playoffs.

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    1. I didn’t have a huge issue with the Reyes signing. Unlike Gonzalez, Reyes wasn’t viewed as a clubhouse cancer; he is actually a good clubhouse presence despite being not a great guy off the field.

      And I would hardly say that Reyes helped “carry” the team to the playoffs in 2016. Among players with 200 PA for the Mets in 2016, he was 7th in overall offensive production (behind the usual suspects in Cespedes and Walker, but also behind Kelly Johnson and Wilmer Flores). He also played bad defense and finished behind eight other Mets in second half fWAR. This clearly doesn’t tell the entire story, but he was one of many players that helped get this team to the playoffs in 2016, and I don’t think he really “carried” anything except the load he should have.

      I didn’t have a problem with Reyes then, and I actually think re-signing him now might be a good avenue to pursue.

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  2. It’s nice to see such an unbiased piece of (ahem) journalism about Mets management and ownership, as well as about Gonzalez. Rene Rivera was not on revocable waivers back in mid-August, so when claimed, they had to let him go. He was hitting .230/.278/.391 at the time. (OPS .669) They brought back Kevin Plawecki to replace him, and he proceeded to hit .303/.411/.474 for a .885 OPS. Yeah, I guess that was a dumb move.

    Did you ever think that Alderson believes that Smith needs some more seasoning in the minors to regain confidence and maybe hone his skills defensively as well as offensively? And that bringing in a FA 1B like Logan Morrison or even Adam Lind, would be a roadblock to Smith’s return? If Smith shows, by mid May or early June, that he is fully ready to return, they can cut Gonzalez with no financial pain, whereas they might be stuck with a more expensive player until July, or even until season’s end if he proved too hard to trade. (see Asdrubal Cabrera – 2017) To me, Gonzalez was a smart, stopgap move. He seemed to show in his press conference that he had seen the error of his ways and was ready and willing to work with Smith on his glove work and batting technique. And his contrite attitude seemed to indicate that he will not be damaging in the clubhouse either.

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    1. All good points. Don’t appreciate the (ahem) journalism jab but can’t win em all.

      The thing I don’t understand most is why Alderson was willing to let Smith struggle through two months at the major league level last season and now all of the sudden thinks he isn’t ready. I think it was pretty clear after the first two or so weeks last season that Smith wasn’t ready for the bigs, but the management left Smith in the big leagues. Could have been because they were pretty much out of contention but I’d like to believe that the franchise would want to do what they think is best to win.

      Retrospectively, bringing up Plawecki was a good call, but I don’t think anyone was expecting him to hit as well as he did. He also has a .222/.304/.310 career slash line including his 90 PA sample from the end of last season in which he hit .303/.411/.474, so I think some of his success can be chalked up to a small sample size as opposed to a true turnaround (though I hope the turnaround is permanent; he hit like Posey for the last month of the season).

      The team began last season trying to contend, and they were still trying to do so two or three months into the season. They were willing to trot Jose Reyes out there every day in the first half when they were still contending, and he hit 26% below league average in the first half. I’m fairly confident Smith could hit better than that if given regular playing time. The team was willing to stick with a well below-average player last season, so why not this season? I just don’t get the discrepancy.

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      1. the ‘play-in game’ isnt really the playoffs…and then…last year…reyes was the single worst defensive player in all of baseball…and was only here, because he was being paid league minimum

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      2. The play-in game is most certainly the playoffs. If you capture a WC spot you’re in the playoffs, simple as that.

        Reyes was not even remotely close to the worst defensive player in all of baseball. If you’re going to throw around a claim as bold as that, you have to at least have some stats to back it up.

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      3. Max, you’re wasting your time on this Pete Fiske guy. He is either a malcontent who makes up facts to suit his negative agenda or a troll looking to stir up controversy and annoyance for their own sake. I merely ignoreed his replies, since they make no sense.

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      4. as far as plawecki…its the same thing with d’arnaud…who did plawecki hit his 303 BA off of? september call ups..back of rotation pitchers because no one was throwing their aces against the mets once we were out of contention…d’arnaud, same thing…he hits at end of season, against mid level and AAA call up pitchers, and then Sandy says he saw great possibilities in d;arnaud at the end of last season…we mets fans understand the game sandy and the wilpons are playing (and…sandy and the wilpons will NOT be the name of my new indie rock band)…it is all about dinero…mets will not spend anything as long as fans still show up at ballpark..they will continue to shop for bargain basement deals, leftovers, and rejected players, in hopes that they might catch lighting in a bottle…primarily because this is the year that the new ‘partners’ who bought shares in the mets can cash out, with interest…so the wilpons need about $141 million in cash in case all the partners cash out this year. Wilpons surely will not spend a dime until they know who is chasing out and who is staying

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      5. Lots of willful ignorance in this comment in my opinion. Teams threw their aces against the Mets if their aces were due up in the rotation. Plawecki hit over .300 in nearly 100 PA. Obviously it’s not over a full season, but 100 MLB PA is nothing to sneeze at, regardless of if it’s April or September.

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      6. Sorry for the (ahem) jab, but I did think your piece was unfairly negative. I’ll try to be more accepting in the future.

        Regarding Plawecki, he said he adjusted his swing down in the minors last year, and he seemed to be a different hitter when he came back. I am hoping to see a new Plawecki from now on. But it was a small sample, so you never know.

        They showed confidence in Reyes ability last year, and it apparently wasn’t misplaced. After that disastrous start, he hit well, and if the pitching had held up. he would have made a significant contribution to a post season run. His 2nd half stats were .288/.356/.472 for a .828 OPS. He hit 20% better than league average in the 2nd half. Reyes is a good ballplayer, who realized that he made a mistake signing with the Marlins and that hung over him until the Mets gave him a chance in 2016. He was a different person, energized and enthusiastic in NY. The start of 2017 was just a horrendous slump. Honestly, I hope Alderson resigns him this year as bench depth.

        Smith was brought up when Duda was traded, and there was no other alternative, unless you think Flores is a first baseman. Hence the fact that they stuck with him for the rest of the season. But I really think that Alderson believed that Dom would finally get untracked and start hitting to his potential. Now, with the A-Gon signing, they have the luxury of letting Dom play in a more relaxed setting to regain his form. (unless he hits the hell out of the ball in spring training)

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      7. I think Flores is a good option at first base but he can’t play every day until he learns to hit righties consistently. I think he could have been the weak side of a platoon with Dom this season but the management clearly does not agree with me.

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      8. Max, Flores will probably be the weak side of a platoon with A-Gon, assuming he makes the team out of spring training. It’s not that management didn’t agree with you. He probably would have filled the same role with Smith, but management apparently believes Smith will benefit more from additional work in the minors. Don’t worry. He’ll be back.

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  3. A scout’s comment on Smith before his callup , as reported by The New York Post: “He’s fat and lazy.”

    “Blue Chipper?” Only if those chips are next to a burger. Nice to see the Mets not waste time on a young player who came up the Majors looking older than the coaches.

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    1. Yes, Smith was overweight last year and has had weight trouble throughout his career.

      To say he is not a blue chip prospect would be silly. Smith was ranked well within the top 100 (I think when he was called up he was in the 60-70 range) in all of baseball. Regardless of your personal opinion on him, the consensus was that he was going to be an impact player at the major league level. Fortunately, two months does not a career make. Smith is only 22 and still has good potential, so I wouldn’t count him out just yet.

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    2. Bob, I did a search of New York Post articles from the last 12 months and found no articles supporting what you said. Please provide a link. Smith was, admittedly, overweight last year. In an interview on SNY, he talked about the difficulty he had with the food in the minor leagues, where most meals were in fast food restaurants. But I do not think anyone has ever questioned his work ethic. He works hard at his craft and he was as highly rated a prospect as he was because of that hard work. I believe you will see a different Dom Smith when he returns to the majors this year. Oh, and BTW, your cutsie burger remark does not suit you.

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  4. The author of this post is dead on. I’m a huge Yankee fan but Dominic Smith should be playing full time this year. He has big time power and a chance to be a middle of the order hitter for years to come. If you think he didnt show power last year then you don’t know how to look at stats. Adrian Gonz is a bad signing…period. And he does indeed have a “me first” attitude.

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