If you went into hibernation this winter and set your alarm for the day that pitchers and catchers arrive, you’d probably be surprised to see that Jay Bruce is penciled in to be the Mets everyday right fielder. Or that he’s even still on the team at all.
Most Mets fans clamored all winter for the front office to trade Bruce, and were left disappointed with the news that he would be kept and starting for the Mets in 2017. Even as rumors of what he might bring back to the Mets plunged from a stud reliever to minor leaguers to basically just cash, few people wanted Bruce on the team after his mostly nightmarish two month stint with the Mets last season.
Now that the “trade Bruce” ship has sailed, at least for now, and spring training is fast-approaching, it’s time to convince ourselves that retaining Bruce is not the worst thing in the world for the Mets. It’s not necessarily even a bad thing.
For one, Jay Bruce is proven commodity. Sure, some of what he’s proven is a propensity to strike out a ton and an inability to get on base, but he’s also consistently been among the league leaders in run production. Just last season Bruce hit 33 home runs with 99 RBI and a .506 slugging percentage, placing him in the top 30 in all three categories among all MLB players.
Bruce may very well be on the decline, but he’s played in at least 137 games since 2010 and is still just turning 30 years old, younger than everyone in the Mets projected starting lineup other than Travis d’Arnaud. And a middle of the order featuring Bruce and Yoenis Cespedes has the potential to be downright scary for opposing pitchers.
By contrast, the player Bruce is displacing in the starting lineup, Michael Conforto, is about as big of an unknown as it gets. Conforto showed immense promise in his 2015 rookie stint, quickly becoming a fan favorite. But even the biggest Conforto fan, myself included, has no idea what to expect from him after an extremely disappointing 2016 season. Even with Bruce blocking him, Conforto figures to find plenty of at bats this season given the ages and injury histories of the Mets other outfielders.
If Conforto bounces back, as we all hope happens, the Mets will find themselves with a good problem to have: too much depth. Which brings me to another reason why keeping Bruce for now makes sense – they can always trade him later.
The offseason trade market for Bruce was sparse, given the plethora of outfielders available. Any deal would likely have netted the Mets pennies on the dollar. But that should change during the season, particularly if Bruce is healthy and hitting for power early on. Bruce and his reasonable one year, $13 million contract could be a hot commodity at the trade deadline and make Sandy Alderson look smarter than us for being patient, once again.
Like it or not, Jay Bruce will likely be the Mets starting right fielder in April. He may thrive in his first full season as a Met, like Cespedes, or downright fail, like Jason Bay. But even something in between would be a positive for a team built to win in 2017.