The New York Mets have made several moves this offseason to improve positions of concern with veteran players. Of those moves, however, it is the signing of Adrian Gonzalez that appears to leave more questions than answers.

The Mets’ first base situation last season was tumultuous, to say the least. Lucas Duda, who was the starter at first base since the 2014 season, was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays at the trade deadline, and second-ranked prospect Dominic Smith hit just .198 with a .262 on-base percentage in the two months following the trade, an underwhelming stat line for a player expected to be the team’s future at the position.

With no other veteran first basemen on the roster, the Mets signed free agent Adrian Gonzalez to a one-year deal for the $545,000 major league minimum, a move that proves the Mets are not comfortable with Smith taking over the starting role just yet. As of now, it appears that Gonzalez and Smith will split time at first, with Gonzalez mentoring Smith and preparing him for when he eventually becomes the starter.

Gonzalez missed significant time last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers due to a back injury and lost his starting job to rookie phenom Cody Bellinger in the process. He played just 71 games, hitting for a meager .242 batting average and posting the lowest slugging percentage of his 14-year career.

Gonzalez is 35 years old and is entering what could potentially be the final season of his career, so it would be unreasonable to expect him to play in an everyday role. Still, if the Mets want Smith to develop into the exceptional player that the organization expects him to become, the team should start Gonzalez and send Smith down to Triple-A.

Gonzalez has been a consistent producer his entire career, appearing in over 150 games in 11 successive seasons before his injury last year, and there is no reason to believe that he couldn’t handle the workload of being a starter with the Mets. His offensive production dropped across the board last season, but with a healthier body and greater confidence in the starting job, he should be able to put up more respectable numbers.

It was clear almost immediately after Smith was called up last season that he was not quite ready to handle major league pitching. However, sitting on the bench and backing up Gonzalez would hinder his opportunity to develop as an everyday player, so Smith should spend time as a starter in Triple-A to fine-tune his approach and be better prepared for his next opportunity at the big league level.

Even in the case that Gonzalez suffers another injury or struggles offensively, the Mets have plenty of players that could fill in and provide support at the position. Wilmer Flores, T.J. Rivera, and Todd Frazier all have experience at first base, so the Mets would not need to call Smith up prematurely if something were to happen to Gonzalez.

Mets fans are yearning for its young prospects to prove their abilities in the majors, and the idea of keeping Dominic Smith in the minors for another season might sound agonizing. Nevertheless, if fans and the organization want Smith to actually live up to these expectations, he needs more time to develop at Triple-A, and he will find it if Adrian Gonzalez is named the starter for the 2018 season.

This article first appeared on isportsweb.com and was syndicated with permission.

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