Last winter, the New York Mets made a mistake by bringing Jay Bruce back. This year, they need to figure out a better plan with him.
Wrong. This slugger turns 31 and suddenly everything changes. He starts just 84 games, barely manages an OPS of .680 and turns in an ugly WAR of -0.4. What do you do now?
Jay Bruce was not a fan favorite when he first came to the Mets. His tenure with Orange and Blue began with a 2016 mid-season trade that sent Dilson Herrera to the Reds in exchange for the power-hitting right fielder.
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During a 50 game stint, he slashed a measly .219/.294/.391 and quickly reminded Mets fans that not all trades are created equal.
His clean-shaven, suburban dad charm wore off quickly when Mets fan realized he wasn’t going to be the impact player they expected. So, what did the Mets do at the conclusion of the 2016 season?
They picked up his 2017 option. And, to everyone’s surprise, Bruce was back!
He was their best offensive player in 2017, whacking 29 home runs in 103 games with the Amazins before (disappointingly) being traded to the Cleveland Indians as a salary dump for 2016 30th round draft pick, Ryder Ryan.
Mr. Bruce hit well with the Indians and was primed for a big payday. That is, until a historically slow 2018 offseason made Jay Bruce settle on a 3 year/$39M team-friendly contract with the Mets. Fans were optimistic.
Alas, things were not as they seemed. Bruce’s pendulum, the middle-in-pitches-only swing was no longer working. And, on top of that, his dad bod and newly acquired outfield depth forced him into a regular first base job, blocking young talents like Dominic Smith and Peter Alonso from the September playing time they deserved. Bruce is officially a problem again.
What options do the Mets have?
Paying Bruce tens of millions of dollars just to walk away probably isn’t worth the one roster spot it will clear up. Let’s explore some other options first.
The Mets should just trade him, right? It’s so obvious! Trade him to get rid of his salary and get a prospect in return!
No. That’s not how this works. Bruce is owed $28M over the next couple of years and no team is going to take on even half of that salary unless they witness a significant improvement in Bruce’s game.
And, you certainly won’t get a worthwhile prospect in return for a lackluster Bruce. Heck, they couldn’t get a worthy prospect in return for Bruce even when he was doing well! Let’s not trade him just yet.
The simple truth is that in order to get any value in Bruce as a player or in a future trade is to play him. I know we all want to see Alonso at first base and depriving Smith of repetitions isn’t doing him any good either.
But, Bruce has proved he can slump and still come back the next season and slug 36 home runs. Why not give him a chance to prove himself again? The Mets will wait at least a few weeks to call up Alonso in order to secure an extra year of control anyway.
So, until Alonso is called up and/or half the roster becomes injured (we’re all thinking it), Jay Bruce should be Mets’ starting first baseman in 2019.
Give him a chance to prove his value before we discuss whether or not to trade him. We’ll never know what he could have contributed unless the Mets give him an opportunity in 2019.
And, the bright side is, he probably can’t do any worse in 2019 compared to 2018 (I said the same thing about Matt Harvey, twice).
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Stay tuned for a future post at the 2019 all-star break when Bruce is still a Met slashing .178/.273/.310 and I claim I knew all along he should have been traded in the 2019 offseason.