PORT ST. LUCIE — Adrian Gonzalez has arrived, and now we will see if his back allows him to officially be back.
Gonzalez, signed by the Mets to a deal for the major-league minimum after his release by Atlanta, was limited by back issues to just 71 games last season with the Dodgers.
The five-time All-Star first baseman will compete with prospect Dominic Smith for playing time in spring training.
“I feel good right now, that’s the main thing,” Gonzalez said Friday morning. “I think everybody goes into spring training with the mentality you’re going to be healthy all year and so that’s my mentality. Last year I went into spring training with the mentality that my back wasn’t even an issue.
“Hopefully, it won’t be an issue. I think I got a good grasp on how to treat it and how to take care of it. It caught me by surprise in April and I had trouble getting it right from there. This whole offseason it’s been great and I haven’t had any issues or any setbacks, so I feel really good right now and I’m ready to go.”
Gonzalez posted just three home runs and a career-worst .642 OPS over 252 plate appearances with the Dodgers in 2017, missing their run to the World Series. Before that, he had driven in at least 90 runs in each of the previous 10 seasons, including more than 100 seven times.
“Absolutely,” Gonzalez replied when asked if he believes he still can be productive. “I think last year obviously it was just kind of like a cross-out year for me… But overall, when I was right, I put up pretty good numbers. I think if my body’s right and right now it is, I can go out there and do the things I’ve been able to do in the past, drive in a good amount of runs and have good at-bats.”
Gonzalez, 35, was a low-risk signing for the Mets; they are paying him just $ 545,000, with the Braves picking up the remainder of his $ 21.5 million deal following an offseason salary-dump trade with the Dodgers.
“I definitely think he can (be player of past). I don’t think we would’ve gotten him if we wouldn’t have thought that,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. “I got to play with Adrian (in Texas), I know him well. He’s going to add a ton to our team. He can definitely pick it at first and this guy is a professional hitter. He’s going to go out there and give you a tough at-bat, and when you do that, and you have the type of talent he has and the type of experience he has, he can definitely go out there and get the job done for us.”
Still, while Gonzalez also comes with a reputation of being outspoken in the clubhouse — both in Boston during Bobby Valentine’s brief tenure and later in Los Angeles — he reiterated that he plans to help mentor Smith, the former first-round pick who struggled with a .198/.262/.395 slash line in 183 plate appearances late last season.
“I think he’s going to add accountability. If that’s controversial, then we’ll take controversy,” Callaway said. “I think he holds guys to a standard because he wants to win and that’s what we need in our clubhouse. That’s the reason we got (Todd) Frazier, the reason we got Jay Bruce back and the reason we got Gonzalez.”
That’s also why Gonzalez believes the Mets can contend in 2018, especially if he and other key players can remain healthy.
“Absolutely. Good teams, you start with the pitching, obviously, and (the Mets have) top pitching in the league,” he said. “And the position players, we’re all experienced, we all bring a unique ability to the plate and we’ll be able to produce a lot of runs. It’s gonna be a fun season.”