Jay Bruce has been pretty good this season. He has 23 home runs and 59 RBI at the break to go along with a nifty-looking .872 OPS. Although he was almost unplayable in 2016 for the New York Mets, Bruce has bounced back to make the deadline deal with the Cincinnati Reds last season look like a clear win for Sandy Alderson. While the trade caused some outfield playing time issues, the Mets got a season and two months of a good ballplayer and seemingly didn’t give up much.
Nevertheless, some recent chatter among media members and fans that the Mets should look into bringing Bruce back after 2017 is borderline insane for a myriad of reasons. So let’s suppress that talk with a refresher on why a Bruce-Mets long-term union is a bad idea.
There’s nowhere to play him
This assumes both of the following crucial points. First, the Mets are unwilling to have Michael Conforto play center field long-term. Given the Mets’ defensive issues, one would hope this is not the plan. It’s not that Conforto is necessarily a horrible center fielder, but two aging corner outfielders plus an out-of-position Conforto in center isn’t going to be forgiving in a spacious park. Still, the Mets have rarely valued defense so while it might seem like a bad idea, it’s not impossible.
Second, the Mets believe in Dominic Smith. Again, the common sense view would be to turn first base over to a top young prospect like Smith who has shown great strides in the minor leagues and won’t cost much of anything. Still, this is the same franchise who still lets Conforto sit on the bench multiple times per week during his All-Star season, so again, not out of the realm of possibility.
So do the right thing — play Conforto in right field, play Smith at first base, spend some money on a real center fielder and let Bruce get a payday somewhere else. It’s nothing against Bruce. He just doesn’t fit.
Bruce is getting old
Set to enter his age-31 season, Bruce is already a slow-moving corner outfielder with a long swing that should probably be playing first base. While he’s having one of his best seasons to date, no man beats the battle against Father Time so it’s natural to expect decline in production and health in Bruce’s future. To commit any significant money to him could lead to a disastrous deal.
Big free agents deal are a risky proposition these days, as Mets fans know all too well (dare I even mention Jason Bay). The Curtis Granderson deal could be viewed as a win or loss depending on who you talk to, and things are off to a less-than-stellar start with the Yoenis Cespedes contract. Maybe Bruce doesn’t age quickly, but the Mets should let some other team find out which way he’ll go.
The money should be spent elsewhere
The Mets need a center fielder, third baseman, second baseman, catcher, starting pitch depth and a bullpen. Even with about $70 million to play with this offseason, upgrading everywhere is a tall task. What the Mets don’t need are the positions that Bruce plays, as corner outfield and first base are one of the few areas the Mets have depth.
Again, just because it seems obvious, doesn’t mean it will happen. Last offseason, the Mets had perhaps more depth at second base than any other position and chose to commit $17 million to a post-back surgery Neil Walker instead of helping a bullpen that was already an arm or two short. Half a season later, Walker is hurt again and the bullpen is in shambles.
But the Mets need to ask themselves this question — if Bruce wasn’t already a Met, would the team even think about signing him? Yes, he’d probably be good in the clubhouse with a younger team next year, and yes, he’s performing well in 2017, but that doesn’t mean he should be back next season.