Posted on January 25, 2017 by Bryan Zarpentine

Jay Bruce New York Mets

Image via newsday.com

The plan to trade outfielder Jay Bruce this winter has not worked out as the New York Mets hoped, forcing the team to come to terms with keeping him around in 2017. At first glance, it appeared that Bruce would be relegated to a bench role with Michael Conforto being given the opportunity to be the every day right fielder. However, the New York Post is reporting that the Mets have informed Bruce that he will be their every day right fielder when the 2017 season gets underway.

Bruce struggled after coming to New York at the trade deadline last year, hitting just .219 in 50 games with the Mets, although he did slug eight home runs during that time. Nevertheless, the Mets picked up his $13 million option for 2017 to guard against the possibility of Yoenis Cespedes signing elsewhere this winter. After the Mets re-signed Cespedes, they made trading Bruce their top priority. But with the market this winter exceptionally cruel to power hitters, there were no takers for Bruce, forcing the Mets to hang onto him.

With Cespedes locked in as New York’s every day left fielder and Curtis Granderson likely sharing time with Juan Lagares in center field, the Mets have just one outfield spot left for either Bruce or Conforto. Both may spend time at first base during spring training with Lucas Duda coming off a back injury that kept him on the DL for nearly four months last year. However, it’s a long shot that either will prove to be a viable option at first base, only leaving enough room in the lineup for one of them.

The Mets have apparently chosen to give Bruce the first crack at being their right fielder. Such a decision is perhaps unfair to Conforto, but it’s the right choice for New York. Despite his struggles last season, Bruce is an accomplished major league hitter who’s capable of contributing 30-plus home runs and 100-plus RBIs. Conforto, meanwhile, had a meteoric rise in 2015 and got off to a hot start in 2016, only to go ice cold for much of last season.

Even if it means sending Conforto back to triple-A at the start of the season, the Mets need to give Bruce the first crack at being their right fielder in 2017, as he is the safer bet to be an offensive force for a team in win-now mode. If Conforto were coming off a strong 2016 campaign, it’d be a different story. Of course, had Conforto performed better over the course of last season, the Mets may never have traded for Bruce in the first place.

Moreover, if the Mets want to attract a suitor for Bruce, they need him in the lineup every day and producing so that teams can forget about his struggles during the last two months of 2016. Not being able to trade Bruce this offseason has prevented the Mets from being able to spend money on bullpen help, and so they will remain open to trading Bruce if a team offers the right price for him. But in the meantime, he needs to play, even at the expense of Conforto’s playing time.

Obviously, Conforto going to the bench or triple-A is not ideal, but it’s not the end of the world, especially after his inconsistent play last season. As long as Bruce is with the Mets, he needs to be the primary right fielder. If his struggles from last season carry over to this year, it’ll be easy to relegate him to the bench and put Conforto into the lineup. But until that happens, the Mets are right to make him their every day right fielder in 2017.

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