So everyday and sometimes several times a day, I visit or refresh MLB Trade Rumors to see if the Mets have moved Jay Bruce. Apparently, I’m not alone. Take yer 30-homers elsewhere ya big palooka, we want our boy Conforto playin’ right.
But, will the past prove to be prologue?
In 1975, the Mets had a hot rookie outfielder named Mike Vail, who burst on to the scene, highlighted by a 23 game hit streak, which was the best ever for a rookie up to then. He finished the year with a slash line of 302/339/420. The fans and apparently the FO were ecstatic enough about this guy, to the point where they deemed folk hero Rusty Staub and his team-record 105 RBI’s expendable and traded him to Detroit that offseason to clear an outfield spot for Vail.
Then, in a foreshadowing of Bobby O’s hedge trimmers and Duaner Sanchez’ cab ride, Vail hurt himself playing basketball during the winter, and began the ’76 season on the DL. He just never got untracked after that. He went on to have a semi-productive, but essentially unremarkable big league career, playing for half a dozen other teams. Only his immediate family, close friends, former teammates and Met geeks like me remember him as a big leaguer. Staub also played another 10 years, outhitting Vail and staying productive, albeit in a limited role, into his 40s. He is fondly remembered both here and in Montreal for his swagger and his style, and he threw out the first pitch at one of the 2015 home WS games. While Vail and his replacements struggled in 1976 (the last good Mets year for the next eight), Staub hit 299/386/433 for The Tigers that year, with a 4.5 WAR.
So….fast forward to January of 2017. The Mets have another prized young ouftielder named Michael Conforto, who broke into baseball at age 22 (one year younger than Vail) in 2015, wowing everyone with his offensive prowess. Like Vail, he suffered an injury that essentially ruined his sophomore year, although by all accounts Conforto’s was baseball-related. Also like Vail, Conforto faces an early career crossroads in his third season. No one can determine if he is the next Moises Alou or the next Domonic Brown.
There is no guarantee that Conforto bounces back. Absent those assurances, doesn’t it make sense that the Mets hold on to Bruce, at least through Spring Training? Bruce will turn 30 right around Opening Day (Staub was 31 when the Mets traded him). Could Bruce put together a season reminiscent of Staub’s 1976 campaign? Of course he could. He’s done it before. Think about the impact those types of numbers could have on the Mets attack and on the NL East. A right-left-right-left batting order of Yoenis Cespedes, Bruce, Neil Walker and Lucas Duda could approach 90 homers and wear out a lot of pitching staffs.
Maybe Conforto is really that good. I hope so. Maybe Mets GM Sandy Alderson can get a good return for Bruce in the next few weeks, something that will shore up the bullpen or add some speed to the lineup. But if all he can fetch in return are some low-A ball flamethrowers and partial salary relief, isn’t he better off holding on to Bruce and setting up a loser leaves town competition in right field this spring between Bruce and Conforto? I don’t fully buy the idea that the Mets haven’t added any relief help because they’re pinching pennies. As of today, there are a glut of relievers still out on the market, meaning a passel of teams are suddenly cash-strapped or the majority of them have determined that the harvest has yet to ripen and the time for handing out contracts for all but the most elite of relievers hasn’t occurred yet.
Why make a bad deal, be it signing a pitcher like Mike Dunn to a incredible contract or trading Bruce and his power for scrubs? Answers to this question can be posted below.