Posted on January 11, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine
The New York Mets have made their first major addition of the winter. Late Wednesday, reports surfaced that the Mets have agreed to terms with outfielder Jay Bruce. The sides agreed on a three-year deal worth $39 million. While the deal comes out to $13 million per season, reports indicate the contract is backloaded. Bruce also has a limited no-trade clause has part of the deal.
Bruce initially came to the Mets via a trade with the Cincinnati Reds in the summer of 2016. He struggled down the stretch, drawing the ire of Mets fans. But he put those struggles behind him in 2017 and was arguably the team’s most important hitter outside of Michael Conforto. Once the Mets were out of contention last year, they shipped Bruce to the Cleveland Indians. Bruce finished the year strong in Cleveland before hitting the free agent market coming off one of the best seasons of his career.
Between his time with the Mets and Indians, Bruce hit .254 with 36 home runs and 101 RBIs in 2017. He posted an OPS of .832, his highest since 2012. However, the market has been slow to develop this offseason, especially for a player like Bruce with limited tools of his skills as a hitter. Nevertheless, Bruce was one of the best run producers available in free agency this offseason.
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Offensively, Bruce gives New York’s lineup another powerful bat to complement Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes. Mets GM Sandy Alderson is notoriously a fan of the long ball. Reports that that the Mets were looking to focus more on defense this offseason seem to be exaggerated with the signing of Bruce.
The Mets will look to Bruce to provide some protection for Cespedes. New York’s lineup rarely featured both Cespedes and Bruce last season. The latter was traded in early August while the former suffered a hamstring injury in late April that kept him out for six weeks. However, when the two were in the lineup together late in the 2016 season, the Mets made a late-season push and earned a playoff spot.
Defensively, it remains to be seen what the Mets will do with Bruce. On the surface, he figures to be the team’s everyday right fielder. That will push Conforto to center field full time with Cespedes in left field. Of course, Conforto may not be ready for opening day because of a shoulder injury. Juan Lagares and Brandon Nimmo will fill in for Conforto in center field until he gets back.
However, the Mets could also use Bruce at first base. He started 10 games at first base for the Mets last year and looked competent defensively. The Mets are not yet sold on 22-year old Dominic Smith being their opening day first baseman. Bruce could fill that spot until Smith is ready, opening the door for Lagares and Nimmo to play more early in the year. The Mets could also look at Bruce as a long-term solution at first base, giving them the option of using Smith as a trade chip.
Obviously, the signing of Bruce does raise some questions for the Mets. However, the team needed to add an impact offensive player to their lineup this winter. In Bruce, a familiar face who has proven he can play in New York, that’s exactly what they got.