The New York Mets are currently 15-8 on the season and in first place in the National League Eastern division though that record doesn’t look as nice after a 11-1 start in 2018.
The Philadelphia Phillies and the Atlanta Braves are beginning to creep up on the Mets as they trail by only half a game and 1.5 games respectively for the division lead.
Despite the Mets strong overall start to the season there is still dead weight on the current roster that needs to be taken care of, and hopefully sooner rather than later.
The five-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner has shown over the last year plus that those days are behind him both offensively and defensively. He’s hitting only .203/.300/.322 with two home runs, 12 RBI and 71 wRC+ in 19 games for the Mets. Major League first baseman are slashing .248/.332/.422 with 108 wRC+ so far this season.
I should note that Gonzalez is walking more this season (12.9%, highest since 2010) though he also striking out more (18.6%, highest since 2008). He also has a .217 BABIP with 27.1 LD% which suggests he’s hitting into some bad luck. The big problem for Gonzalez is his complete lack of power from a power spot, his .310 SLG% ranks 26th out of 28 first basemen with at least 50 plate appearances.
Defense is no longer a strength for Gonzalez either, he’s at -1 DRS and 0.1 UZR to start the season following -2 DRS and -0.6 UZR last season. Overall Gonzalez has been a bad player for the Mets with -0.3 fWAR and -0.4 WAR in only 19 games.
One of the reasons I believe the Mets should be quick to move on from the veteran Adrian Gonzalez is multiple options they have that are likely superior.
The first option, and likely most productive at the moment, is moving Jay Bruce to first base against right-handed pitching. Not only does it give the Mets better offensive production at first base – even Bruce’s slow start and .719 OPS is an improvement over Gonzalez – it also allows the Mets to get Brandon Nimmo (and his 1.093 OPS) in the lineup more often.
Bruce has been decent (0 DRS/-0.4) at first base last season in a small sample size for someone that only had 26 innings at the position coming into 2017. The move also improves the outfield defense with Bruce and his plantar fasciitis becoming tough to watch him move out there.
Another option is to simply let Wilmer Flores play almost daily at first base and call up another bench player to take the roster spot of Gonzalez. Flores is hitting .233/.313/.419 with 107 wRC+ this season and a career-high 10.4% walk rate. He’s also been okay defensively at first base with 0 DRS and 0.2 UZR in 66.2 innings this season.
Playing Flores everyday over Gonzalez is the easier of these two moves for the Mets, and almost certainly makes them better immediately. I will note that Flores is hitting .259/.306/.463 with 103 wRC+ against right-handers since the beginning of the 2017 season.
The final option for the Mets at first base is to promote Dominic Smith from Triple-A. The problem with that is Smith is in a serious slump right now going 4-for-26 with 10 strikeouts over his last seven games. For the season, he’s hitting only .246/.378/.426 with two home runs and 12 RBI in 74 plate appearances.
While Smith is walking at a career-high 17.6% rate, he’s also striking out at a career-high 28.4% rate. He’s certainly working to become more selective after walking only 7.7% of the time in the big leagues last season.
I would give Smith more time in Triple-A as he works to balance being more selective at the plate while still hitting for power, something he has yet to master this season. I will note that Smith is still in great shape and has been solid defensively at first base for the 51s this season.
I know some fans will start screaming the Mets other first base prospect, Peter Alonso because of his awesome .373/.479/.678 start for the Double-A Binghamton Rumble Ponies, but I believe the he still needs to work on his defense (though improved this season) and only has 589 minor league plate appearances with 120 of them in Double-A.
All in all, the Mets have a few different ways they could go forward at first base and simply putting Adrian Gonzalez out there is likely the worst one in the short and long-term.