So, you’ve got yourself a player who you’d like to get rid of. Problem is, his value isn’t anywhere near what you expected it to be. And right now, it doesn’t look like anyone else wants him, either. Now what? That’s exactly the situation that the New York Mets find themselves in these days. Last summer, New York acquired right fielder Jay Bruce in a trade deadline deal with the Reds—an agreement that sent prospects Dilson Herrera and Max Wotell to Cincinnati. Now, mere months later, the Mets are already looking to move the veteran slugger after playing less than half a season with the club.
Bruce’s struggles in New York were glaring from the get-go, as the 29-year-old left-hander batted .219/.294/.391 with eight home runs, five doubles, 19 RBI, 43 strikeouts, a .685 OPS and a below-league-average .251 True Average in 50 games after being traded. And, not that the sample means much of anything, but Bruce—who led the National League in RBIs and was brought in because of his prolific situational hitting prior to the trade—did bat .237/.370/.342 in 46 plate appearances with runners in scoring position with the Mets.
Heading into December, it was no secret that Sandy Alderson and company deemed Bruce as the odd man out in a crowded outfield featuring Curtis Granderson, Michael Conforto and Juan Lagares. Once the Mets re-signed star left fielder Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $110 million contract, it became all but certain that the club was going to move on from Bruce and his $13 million commitment for the 2017 season–a commitment the Mets brought on themselves by signing off on his option.
While talks were had and plenty of reports linked Bruce to teams such as the Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers, the Winter Meetings came and went and there still does not appear to be much of any traction on a move being made anytime soon. Alderson admitted during the Winter Meetings that he’d be reluctant to add payroll before ridding the team of some of it’s current financial commitments. “It’s like buying a new house without selling your old one,” Alderson said. “Sometimes you get stuck in transition. It’s not a good place to be.”
Alderson’s candor is admirable, but I struggle to find a good reason to publicly admit that the team needs to shed salary before being able to make more moves. While teams were already well aware that the Mets wanted to trade Bruce, admitting this essentially now confirms that they have to trade him. Their leverage, if they had any to begin with, takes a hit.
I almost get the sense that Alderson expected there to be a better market for Bruce, and it hasn’t quite developed the way he wanted it to. Now, free agent/trade options the Mets may have wanted to look at are coming off the board as the team remains in a holding pattern due to their financial commitment to Bruce next season. Factor in that few expected players such as Adam Eaton—already acquired in a trade by the Washington Nationals—Jarrod Dyson, Lorenzo Cain and maybe even Charlie Blackmon to all be available via trade, thus further clogging up the outfield market.
Plus, prolific sluggers such as Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo are still standing by on the open market, as none of them appear to be garnering the kind of interest many would’ve expected them to. And if players such as these are having trouble landing the type of deals they seek, it’s going to be even harder for the Mets to get something valuable in return for Bruce, as he simply isn’t as good as any of the options currently available on the market. The problem for Bruce is that he’s a one-dimensional player, and that just doesn’t play these days.
While his .256 ISO was good for 14th-best among qualified hitters in baseball this past season, the power numbers are the only impressive part of Bruce’s game. His baserunning is below average, his -15.2 defensive runs above average (DEF) ranked 46th out of 54 eligible outfielders and his 4.9 offensive runs above average (OFF) was worse than outfielders such as Angel Pagan, Brett Gardner and Matt Kemp.
Bruce is your prototypical slugger in that he strikes out a lot—21.4 percent of the time during the 2016 season—but he also doesn’t make up for that in walks as his 7.5 percent walk rate ranked 36th out of 54 qualified outfielders and his .309 on-base percentage ranked 118th for all major leaguers and was the ninth worst mark among outfielders. Once you add all of these variables together, only one conclusion can be reached: Nobody should really want to trade for Jay Bruce. At least not right now, and not at whatever the Mets’ current asking price is.
So what’s a team to do? The Mets seem to have three options here.
The first one—which is certainly obvious—is that they could try to wait out the market and find a team that lost out on the big bats towards the end of the winter, thus allowing them to get a better return than they’re being offered now. But with that, there comes the risk of standing by while every outside option is signed or traded elsewhere, and the Mets are left out in the cold, having to wait until midseason to address their remaining needs.
That leads the Mets to their second option, which would mean having Bruce as their Opening Day right fielder. This would likely send Michael Conforto to the minor leagues so he could play every day, something Sandy Alderson did not envision heading into the offseason.
The last choice is the Mets essentially treating the Bruce situation as a pure salary dump for a minimal return just to clear the roster spot and allow them to pursue other options via free agency or trade. But, considering what the Mets gave up to acquire Bruce in the first place, that is obviously not the most ideal outcome for the front office.
Indeed, it’s a long offseason, and there is plenty of winter still ahead. But with pitchers and catchers reporting to their respective camps in about eight weeks, time could grow short for the Mets, especially as each day passes without a deal. And that could lead them to making some very difficult decisions about their roster this spring.
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