By Ernie Palladino
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The Mets actually did something concrete over the weekend.
Don’t get too excited. Agreeing to terms with free-agent Adrian Gonzalez won’t exactly get them to the promised land. Though the 35-year-old ex-Dodger fulfills management’s goals for cheap labor with a $545,000 price tag and insurance at first base, the move does nothing too address the need for a starter at either second or third.
Unless the Mets fill one or both of those holes, the task of improving on their 92-loss season becomes that much more difficult, especially considering the current starter at first, Dominic Smith, did little to impress the hierarchy in a six-week rookie debut last season.
That’s why they picked up Gonzalez in the first place. They ultimately don’t want Jay Bruce bothering with fill-in duties at first, preferring him and his power bat to stick to right field so Michael Conforto can take center once he comes back from shoulder surgery. It makes sense, especially in light of the .198 flop Smith put together over 49 games.
Limited to 71 games with the Dodgers last year because of back problems, Gonzalez could contribute some pop. And seeing that the Braves, who acquired him in December as part of a five-player trade for Matt Kemp and then cut him two days later, remain on the hook for the remaining $22.3 million on his contract, the price was right.
That still leaves the Mets with a major hole depending on what they ultimately do with Asdrubal Cabrera. Right now, he’s headed for third, which means they could use a second baseman. The Indians’ Jason Kipnis was a possibility, and if the published reports are correct, Sandy Alderson might have gotten him for a reasonable package.
But the money, as usual, got in the way. Kipnis, a two-time All-Star, is coming off career lows in batting average (.232), on-base percentage (.291) and OPS (.705). And he only played in 90 games, his lowest total since he came up in 2011.
He is versatile, as his strong defensive showing in center during the postseason proved.
But that wasn’t enough to offset the $27 million he’s due over the next two years. According to a report, someone at a higher pay grade than Alderson nixed the deal at the last minute.
Instead of picking up that price tag, they gave Bruce a three-year, $39 million deal. It does make one wonder what the Mets are thinking if they could have had the 30-year-old Kipnis, too, at about the same yearly salary as Bruce.
Plus, it would have definitively plugged a hole at second, allowing them to plant Cabrera at third.
But that, apparently, is not how the Mets play this offseason game. So Gonzalez and the back problems that shortened his season come at a bargain, as insurance in case Smith struggles again.
It’s an OK pickup, but hardly the type that will make a discernable impact.
Therefore, the wait goes on for further signs of life. Getting Bruce will definitely help the outfield situation. Todd Frazier would certainly help at third, and 34-year-old Howie Kendrick probably has a couple of good years left in him at second.
Neither will come at bargain-basement prices.
They got their cheap insurance policy in Gonzalez. The rest will come at a premium.
Judging by their rejection of the Kipnis trade, that’s a price they may be unwilling to pay.
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