The Case For Keeping Jay Bruce
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.
I’d rather keep Bruce, give Wilmer the 1B job, and re-sign Loney who is a solid LH back-up and terrific defender for late inning replacement work.
What to do with the OF if we keep everyone? Personally, I’d rather start Bruce in RF and perhaps platoon Curtis and Juan in CF. Curtis won’t complain and he will get the rest he needs. And while I’d rather give Juan the full time job, I can’t see in any way shape or form that Terry and Sandy six a $16MM player who has been a great soldier if not always a great performer. That leave Conforto the odd man out which is not necessarily the worse thing in the word … let him rake in Vegas and focus on recognizing breaking pitches, although I guess they don’t break as much in the PCL! Invariably one of the other guys will get hurt, and Conforto will get his chance again … he just has to be ready.
My main concern outside of Familia’s expected suspension is TdA.
Well, I suppose I have now been officially labeled a Met geek, because I remember well listening to Bob Murphy on the radio describing with excitement rookie Mike Vail during that batting streak.
Like Bob, I agree with your well written piece. Bruce is a one-dimensional player, but that one dimension has value. The market is glutted with unemployed power hitting outfielders, so there is no need to rush. The dilemna for Alderson is that the Mets need a 3+ WAR player in RF and CF. The need to close the gap on the Nats. While Bruce has had some big years and is still in his prime, he is just as likely to put up a 1.0 WAR as a 3.0 WAR. Heck, last year he hit 30 HR in a bandbox and only put up a 0.9 WAR. Put him in the AL, where he can DH some of the time, and he is much more likely to put up a 2+ WAR and add value for $13 million. For my 2 cents, while Conforto is no sure thing, he is a safer bet to put up a 3+ WAR than Bruce is, for the Mets. I still wouldn’t give Bruce away or hold off on bullpen acquisitions until he is dealt, but I don’t have to deal with Jeff W. and his payroll rules.
Lastly, keeping Bruce as Duda insurance at 1B is even a bigger risk. While Bruce has only 26 innings at 1B in the bigs, the advanced metrics are horrible. And, with DW’s weak arm possibly at 3B on a regular basis, Duda is clearly a better defensive option, and the Mets do not have the luxury to trade away any defense right now.
Getting the Os to take Bruce and a mid-level prospect for Brach would be optimal, as still could make sense for each team if the chips fall in the Mets’ favor.
I agree that trading Bruce to the AL makes the most sense … the problem is … all the other GMs know that too! To your point, I don’t want to give Bruce away just for budget relief … just because they signed Yoenis, it is clear that the Mets are still not a top big market team from an ownership standpoint.
Despite his crappy track record to signing FA relievers to major league contracts, Sandy is as much concerned about extending that streak than he is with exceeding the crappy owners’ budget. A good team would have already bolstered the pen and get whatever good value they can get for either of Bruce or Grandy … but, neither should be given away, especially to a team in the NL East!
But, the bantied-about trade with the O’s is perhaps the most sensible trade I’ve seen yet for Bruce … we see if that comes to fruition if the O’s can sign one of the FA power bats or get Blackmon from the Rockies.
I think we’re comparing two very different players. I have minimal expectations for any kind of dramatic rebound from Bruce. Thus far, the market seems to concur.
However, I think the real question is: can he play well in the headlights of NYC? If he’s not in the position of being “the man”, I think he can thrive … if Cespedes and others are not healthy and/or don’t produce, I think Jay will fail as well. But, to ignore 33 HRs and 99 RBIs (not all of which were produce in GABP) he produced last year despite the WAR metrics is a mistake. I think the other GMs just know that Sandy is looking to dump Jay and are trying to get Bruce as cheap as possible, especially given the outstanding glut of similar but slightly inferior options on the FA market.
No way does Bruce pull a Jason Bay next year if he remains with the Mets … no way does he “annualize” his 2016 Mets results to the tune of 24 HRs and a Granderson-like 57 RBIs in a full 2017 season and maintain a stat line of .219/.294/.391/.685 or have repeat of his 2014 season with the Reds … he may not repeat 33/99, but I’d take 25+/85+ from Jay … we shall see if he has that chance!
He’s not very good. Judging both players purely on their offensive contributions, Staub was an above-average to excellent hitter in the two years leading up to his trade by both Baseball Reference and Fangraphs. Bruce was a below-average to putrid hitter in the two years prior to his white hot start to 2016 according to both sites. Notice that he hit only slightly better in the second half of 2016 than he did in 2014 and 2015. The Reds were hoping they could ride his hot start to the season to sucker some desperate team to give up something substantial for him before his luck ran out. Trading for Bruce made no sense at the time and keeping him makes less sense going forward.
As I responded to another fan, comparing Bruce and Rusty is not entirely fair … but, to simply get rid of Bruce without adequate return is a mistake … especially if he goes to a team like the Phillies.
As for trading for Bruce, Sandy was self-admittedly just hedging his bets in the event Cespedes was not re-signed. I wasn’t a fan, but I wasn’t against it either, all things considered. But, yeah, Sandy did not get the MVP-type lighting in a bottle that was Cespedes circa 2015.
I’m not looking for a star, but for a Brad Brach if the O’s didn’t trade for a Seth Smith? Perhaps throw in another mid-level prospect?
Unfortunately, there are too many other “next tier” FAs that can probably be had for less than $13 MM a year and produce decent offensive numbers … just not 33 and 99.
But and be fair now, how many people here would be skewering Sandy and the Wilpons if they dump Bruce for next to nothing and watch as he puts up some career-norm numbers, while at the same time both Conforto and the Mets offense struggles?
Ideally, I’d like to see the Mets swap Bruce and Gabby Ynoa to Toronto for Dalton Pompey and Sean Reid-Foley, with the Mets eating some of Bruce’s salary. It could still happen I suppose. I still like SD’s Brad Hand, but the Mets would have to pick up almost all of Jay’s salary for this to occur.
Sometimes these things have a way of working themselves out, but other times (see Davis, Ike) they don’t.
I re-iterate my earlier comments — if he’s not “the man” and Cespedes is healthy (as well other key players — although I don’t expect much from DW) … I think Bruce will be fine as the Mets primary RF. However, if YC and other key guys get hurt, Bruce will struggle in trying to do too much offensively in the glare that is NY baseball and its media coverage.
I agree with you that the worst-case scenario is probably Bruce trying to do too much. But even the average-to-good scenario isn’t one I’m enthused about.
The BEST-case scenario with Bruce is pretty awesome, though. It would be sad to see that play out with another team. I think that’ll take more than just comfort, though — it’ll take an entirely new approach to the strike zone, and a flatter swing (at least on some pitches).
But, yeah, he’s got lay off those bad off-speed pitches … he was definitely trying to hard with the Mets until the last 10 days of the season … and it messed him up mentally making his completely guess at the pitches thrown at him … he looked like he had no plan at the plate. But, except for 2014, Jay has not had a bad overall season. He’s not a star of Cespedes’ caliber, but again, he’s a capable supporting cast member.
I mean, MAYBE there are still a few dumb GMs out there, and maybe one of them panics as they enter spring training with a black hole in RF, and maybe their farm system is overflowing with relief prospects, and maybe at that point they give away their 8th inning guy to get Bruce. Anything’s possible. Maybe waiting to see if that pans out is the best move for Sandy and co.
I completely agree with Dan on the risk with Conforto — I strongly suspect he’s a bust, to be honest, as his 2016 struggles just went on too long — but I’d rather bet on Lagares than Bruce.
Especially because Collins is willing to move the young guys around, but will surely play Bruce every day if he has him. A Lagares-Conforto mix-and-match will probably hurt the team less.
If we start 2017 with Bruce, I will be rooting for a red-hot April and then a trade after the first game where he appears to be cooling off.
As for a red hot April, I wouldn’t wait for the inevitable cold spell to unload him. Another consideration is the over 2M per month it will cost to keep him, not a good thing for the small market Mets.
2. A-Cab (ss) or DW (3b)
6. Bruce or Conforto-rf
7. A-Cab or DW
8. TdA or Rivera
The bench is Flores (UT), Reyes 2b-ss-3b, Lagares-cf, the backup catcher and either Nimmo or Conforto. If Bruce stays, my hope is that Conforto starts the year in AAA.
I don’t hate that lineup, but it definitely takes on an all-or-nothing feel with the ball either leaving the yard or the batter turning right at first base. I don’t anticipate any big trades shaking this arrangement up, and while we might see some call ups like TJ Rivera and perhaps even Amed Rosario, this is probably it, at least to start the year.
Assuming that is the case, the lineup should be:
3B – Reyes
SS – Cabrera
LF – Cespedes (although I’d prefer him in the clean up spot)
RF – Bruce
2B – Flores (or Duda, if the opposing SP is a righty)
1B – Duda (or Flores, if the opposing SP is a lefty)
CF – Granderson/Lagares
C – TdA/Rivera
P – Syndergaard/deGrom/Matz/Harvey/???
The rest of the bench would be: TJ Rivera, Nimmo (b/c he can play all OF positions capably) and ideally, KJ, if they can get him to come back.
While I’d prefer to have Conforto play everyday, let him do so in Vegas and focus on laying off breaking balls out of the K zone, so that he’s ready when one of the OFs invariably get hurt.
Will the Mets do what makes sense?
I’m already penciling Wright and Walker into my opening day lineup…
Hey, why do the Mets wait until late every year to acquire Kelly Johnson? Why can’t they just sign him today?
I don’t know much about Reid-Foley, but I do like the prospect idea. Maybe find someone out there who’s got star potential but is blocked and will come cheaper than usual?
And, the latest is that the Braves will sign KJ again and then trade him to the Mets before the trade deadline for more of the Mets’ farm system.
I think the key statement about Bruce was made to an unattributed Mets FO source. It was something to the effect that Jay was their insurance policy in the event Cespedes walks and that insurance can be costly.
The cost could very well be the portion of Bruce’s salary they give to whomever takes him off their hands in return for Dilson Herrera II.
Madson, who saved 30 games last year is actually owed more money than Bruce is, albeit over a two-year period. Irony of ironies, the A’s end up sending the Mets $ to balance the dough. The Mets may have to send Beane a lower-level prospect or two to sweeten the deal.
Not advocating this deal, but I wouldn’t hate it. Just my attempt to keep the flickering embers of this year’s hot stove alive.