One of the big questions the New York Mets want to answer this month is how Jay Bruce will fit on their team going forward. Bruce came back over the winter on a three year, $39 million contract to help add some power to the lineup. The first half was an unmitigated disaster for Bruce, who hit .212 with three homers and 17 RBI’s in 212 at bats before landing on the disabled list with hip and back injuries. Those injuries sidelined Bruce for two months, but since coming back he has looked more like his old self.
In 60 at bats since being activated, Bruce has hit .267 with four doubles, five home runs, and 14 RBI’s. That kind of production is more in line with Bruce’s career norms, lending credence to the idea that his first half struggles were due to injury rather than a decline in ability. With Yoenis Cespedes projected to miss most (if not all) of 2019 due to a pair of heel surgeries, Bruce could offer the Mets a lot of power that they are lacking.
The issue becomes where the Mets choose to play Bruce. Bruce has been splitting time between right field and first base since coming back, with Mets’ manager Mickey Callaway hinting that the team could use Bruce as their regular first baseman next season. Bruce has not looked great at first, showing limited range and shaky footwork, but he has made most of the routine plays at the position. The Mets are also hopeful that Bruce could improve by having a full spring training at first base, a position that could help him avoid bouts of plantar fasciitis that plagued him earlier in the season.
Another idea behind putting Bruce at first base is that it would allow the team to add a full time center fielder, allowing them to deploy Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto in the outfield corners. This would make the Mets’ outfield defense better, but it would block both Dominic Smith and Peter Alonso from a spot on the big league roster. The Mets may look to shop one or both of them over the winter, but Bruce’s solid finish could rebuild some of his value as well. Bruce is still due $28 million over the next two years, so the Mets would have to pay down some of that amount to move him, but if Bruce shows that he can hit while playing both first base and right field it could make him more attractive in deals.
Another trade option the Mets could consider is to swap Bruce’s contract for another team’s questionable deal, hoping to acquire a player at a position of need that would benefit from a change of scenery. One logical trade partner could be the Colorado Rockies, who could use options in both of Bruce’s primary positions for 2019. The Rockies could offer reliever Bryan Shaw in a deal, who pitched for Callaway when he was the Cleveland Indians’ pitching coach and was a Mets’ target last winter. Shaw received a three year deal worth $27 million from Colorado over the winter but has been bad for the Rockies, going 4-6 with a 6.27 ERA in 58 appearances. Shaw has been slightly worse at home (7.54 ERA) than on the road (5.28 ERA), but getting him out of Coors Field and reunited with Callaway could revitalize him.
How Bruce plays over the next couple of weeks could push the Mets’ decision in one way or another. The Mets do need some power to balance the more contact heavy top of the order, which Bruce could provide, but moving him opens up more options to improve the team as a whole. The decision of how to handle Bruce will be a major factor that shapes the direction of the Mets’ offseason since he affects a lot of different players on the roster. Bruce can take matters into his own hands by continuing to hit and essentially forcing the Mets to keep him, so this will be fascinating to track over the next several months.