According to the New York Post the Mets have informed Jay Bruce they plan to start the season with him as their everyday right fielder. And thus concludes BruceGate 2017 (Maybe? Is it really over?).
The prospect of Bruce being with the Mets on Opening Day doesn’t really bother me. Why? Generally, I refuse to get worked up over a Mets roster “dilemma” if the end result is the Mets have more roster depth. You may not like Jay Bruce’s skill set and you may wish the Mets could freely spend his 13 million dollar salary on other upgrades, but that’s seemingly impossible to achieve at the moment. So the doomsday scenario is the Mets have five outfielders, and in the long run additional depth is a positive not a negative.
Here are my thoughts on some of the fears Mets fans have cited due to Jay Bruce’s presence on the roster.
If Bruce Is here Michael Conforto will be ruined!
I’m skeptical of the claim that 23 year old Michael Conforto’s career will be derailed as a result of limited playing time in 2017. If you feel the Mets are a better team with Conforto starting everyday or that we shouldn’t “waste” a year of his pre-arbitration service time then fine. Those are valid points worth discussing. But after his time in Vegas in 2016 and his experience with a veteran filled roster towards the end of last season, I’m confident Conforto will be ready to battle Curtis Granderson and one-dimensional Bruce for at-bats in 2017. In an ideal world he’d outplay them and force his way into the starting lineup. T.J. Rivera and Rene Rivera certainly accomplished that at their respective positions in 2016.
There are not enough ABs to go around for all these outfielders.
Have the people saying this ever watched the Mets? An injury is likely to occur and a full time job will open up for Conforto before you can say “Spring Training.”
The position players on the Mets roster, as it’s currently constructed, are old and injury prone. Duda, Yoenis Cespedes, and Juan Lagares dealt with injuries in 2016. Grandy will be 36 years old by Opening Day and Bruce had knee surgery in 2014. If he doesn’t have a starting job outright due to injury, I can see Conforto being double switched into games regularly for defense and starting a few days a week to keep these veteran guys fresh.
In addition to filling in at all three outfield spots, Conforto can work at first base in Spring Training. Conforto increasing his versatility is a positive thing for next season and beyond. If Dominic Smith isn’t ready to take over the job in 2018 then we’ll need someone to fill in for Lucas Duda if the Mets let him walk after the 2017 season.
The Mets Outfield Defense Will Be Terrible With Bruce
Unfortunately there’s not much I can say to refute that claim. The Mets outfield defense will likely be below average in 2017. But the outfield defense is going to be poor regardless of the alignment. This squad won’t specialize in run prevention as long as Granderson, Bruce, and Conforto are drawing the majority of starts in center field and right field.
If you wanted the Mets to acquire a true starting caliber center fielder this winter and shake up the roster to emphasize defense then you’re probably disappointed. But clearly the overwhelming supply of power hitters in the free agent market limited the Mets ability to move their expensive corner outfielders. If Sandy wants to prioritize upgrading the defense it will be easier for him to achieve that next offseason when many of our current position players become free agents.
The Mets don’t have any payroll flexibility to upgrade the bullpen
This may be true, but it’s hardly Jay Bruce’s fault if ownership has capped the team’s payroll at the current amount. If the Mets fail to upgrade the bullpen and that hurts the team down the road, the only people to blame are Sandy Alderson for misallocating financial resources and ownership for not providing additional funds to improve the pen.
I’m trying to look at the bright side of having Bruce on the team and here’s where I’ve landed:
- If Jay Bruce hits in line with his career numbers, then the Mets will benefit from the additional offense. The team’s struggle to generate runs is the reason they traded for him in the first place. If we dump him before the season we’ll probably wind up trading another prospect for someone like him by the trade deadline.
- If Bruce performs and the team is inexplicably blessed with health then he becomes a expendable trade chip to flip for a piece the team actually needs. And hopefully by then the market isn’t as flooded with comparable players.
- If Bruce struggles and Conforto stands out in his limited playing time then Michael starts and Bruce becomes an expensive pinch hitter. Will Terry Collins play Jay Bruce for three straight months even if he’s hitting .200? Maybe but that’s a problem with Terry’s managerial style not a Bruce issue.
- The stats show us that Jay Bruce’s contribution (at least from 2014-16) in the power department is essentially negated due to his below average defense. He’s basically a “net negative.” Just like our old friend Daniel Murphy. I’m hoping that Jay Bruce becomes the new Kevin Long reclamation project and somehow takes his power to the next level in a contract year.
In the end, the team defense may wind up stinking with Bruce in the fold and maybe Conforto won’t handle a reserve role well, but at least the 2017 Mets will hit a lot of dingers again. Duda, Neil Walker, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jay Bruce, Granderson, Cespedes could all supply 20+ homers. If our starting pitching is healthy and returns to its 2015 form and the lineup has the Citi Field Home Run Apple popping on a nightly basis, good things will be in store in 2017 whether Bruce is in the lineup or not.
Editor’s Note: This was first published on Mets Merized Online.