During the offseason, it was all-but guaranteed that the New York Mets would trade Jay Bruce. A combination of factors made this so and all carried similar weight. His $13 million salary, that he was supposedly not comfortable in New York, the presence of Michael Conforto to take his place – all were legitimate justifications to move him.
However, the efforts were not of the scorched-earth variety with getting Bruce off the team the one and only goal to accomplish no matter the cost. He certainly struggled in his two months with the Mets in 2016, but the extenuating circumstances – being away from his family, culture shock, not having a place to stay and bouncing to several hotels and staying with a variety of teammates while at “home”, putting pressure on himself to perform – all contributed to his slump.
With his two-month trial run behind him and the entire winter to accept that he might have to spend 2017 in New York, he was able to come to grips with that, find a place to live and prepare mentally and physically. Had the Mets expressed a willingness to simply get him off the roster, rest assured Bruce would be off the roster. They didn’t. They wanted something for him, even if that was a recovery of the talent they traded away to get him. In short, any deal had to be advantageous to the Mets or there would be no deal.
There was no deal.
Eventually, the Mets conceded to reality and moved forward with Bruce penciled in as their right fielder. Sure, Bruce was available, but he wasn’t being actively marketed. Presumably, with his good start to 2017, that availability has been downgraded to “we’ll listen, but…”
Four home runs and an .891 OPS in 58 plate appearances is proportionate with what he produced over full seasons when he was at the top of his game with the Cincinnati Reds. Along with hedging against Yoenis Cespedes’ free agency and Conforto’s sophomore slump, it’s why the Mets traded for him. He’s expressing newfound comfort and even enthusiasm about being a Met. His start has inspired such confidence within the factions of Mets fans who so despised Bruce and wanted him off the roster by any means necessary that they have turned their vitriol to Curtis Granderson – all to shoehorn Conforto into the everyday lineup.
As the season progresses and Bruce maintains productivity, there will be a deal to be had. The question then becomes whether the Mets should act on it or not. It hinges not just on Bruce, but on Conforto.
While Granderson has started slowly, he has proven that his end numbers will be reasonably close to what he has produced his entire career. It’s a known that he can handle New York for the duration. Can that be said for Bruce? Or might he fall into a funk similar to the one that started all this talk and regret in the first place, salvaged only by a solid run in September?
Bruce, like Granderson, is streaky. The value of each on the market is similar even though when the Mets were shopping Bruce, teams were asking for Granderson instead and the Mets demurred. The Mets’ preference then was to retain Granderson and trade Bruce.
Should Conforto continue to show that the issues which resulted in losing his starting job in 2016 and directly led to the Bruce acquisition have been solved, the argument goes that the Mets will need to find an everyday spot for him.
There are two factors in place here regarding Bruce and a possible trade:
- What is the offer on the table and does it adequately address a hole?
- Do they trust that Conforto will not fall into the same pit that landed in Las Vegas twice in 2016?
General manager Sandy Alderson is deliberate in his actions and will not cave to pressure from the outside. If he had, Bruce would have been gone in November. Despite their current struggles, the Mets are a team with World Series aspirations and a legitimate chance to make those aspirations a reality. They cannot afford to take all their chips and place them on blue and orange No. 30 and hope the wheel spins perfectly for them. It’s far better to place some chips on No. 3 (Granderson), No. 19 (Bruce), and No. 21 (Lucas Duda) along with No. 30 and hope to make incremental gains in their figurative bankroll.
Regarding Duda, by now it’s obvious that the idea of moving Bruce to first base was a contingency plan if Duda was hurt. He’s not and the Mets are not going to sacrifice defense to that degree by putting a pure novice like Bruce at the position unless they absolutely must, closing another door for Conforto’s insertion into the everyday dynamic.
Conforto is currently in the safe zone of the backup quarterback. Everyone loves him until he has the job; then he’d better produce. He’s had a good start in 2017, but he also had a great start in 2016. The blind spot that his ardent supporters have for him dismisses to a remarkable – borderline delusional – degree of how truly bad he was in 2016. The Mets will bear the brunt of any decision they make while those advocating Conforto play no matter what will move onto other things and not face any consequences apart from the ridicule of having been wrong if he falters again.
Advanced metrics cannot dress up these numbers. He lost the starting job and was demoted in 2016 because he deserved it. The Mets are taking a huge gamble if they trade Bruce and again entrust Conforto with a key role in the batting order. His talent is unquestioned and he will be given a starting role from the season’s open as early at 2018. But this is about right now and right now, there’s no harm in having a good bench, of Conforto paying some dues without the pressure of being a key starting component for a veteran, win-now team.
Amid the Mets’ worries, having too many players who warrant regular playing time is not one of them. Whereas in past seasons due to injury and faulty roster construction, the Mets didn’t have a good starting lineup let alone a good bench, this is a pretty good situation to be in not just in comparison to those low-scoring days, but in general.
With veterans like Bruce, Granderson and even Cespedes, there’s nothing negative about them receiving periodic days off to get Conforto three starts per week – around 12 at-bats – and have the youngster in a low-pressure bench/part-time role. If the Mets trade Bruce to get Conforto into the lineup and Conforto falls into the same bad habits that sabotaged him in 2016, the Mets will simultaneously weaken the starting lineup and the bench and add another hole that must be filled. Add in that no team is making a blockbuster offer for Bruce now or ever and its pointlessness is increased. When calculating all the factors involving a trade of Bruce, it does not make any sense. Therefore, they shouldn’t do it.