By Ryan Draghi
About nine months removed from a World Series run, the New York Mets found themselves six games back at the All-Star Break looking to defend the division title.
Despite being plagued by injuries to big contributors like David Wright, Matt Harvey, Lucas Duda,Travis D’arnaud, and Matt Harvey in the first half of 2016, the Mets were tied for a wild card berth and six games above .500 at the All-Star Break. Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson was pressured by fans, media, and ownership to make a deal at the deadline in order to overcome injuries and to make another World Series run. And in late July, that’s exactly what he did.
In order to add outfield depth and home run power, the Mets acquired Jay Bruce from the Cincinnati Reds for 2B Dilson Herrera and left handed minor leaguer Max Wotell hours before the 2016 trade deadline. At the time, the deal to move the middle-infielder Herrera for Bruce was a sound and reasonable trade for multiple reasons. Primarily, the Mets had leverage to move Herrera with a solid second baseman already in place. Neil Walker, who tied his career high in home runs and had his second best season in terms of average in 2016, proved to the organization he could still hold his own as an above average player. Additionally, the trade made sense due to a plethora of young infield talent, including three of their top-seven middle infielder prospects. So, while the deal with Bruce was a good short-term plan, the Mets naming him the starting right fielder for the 2017 season could potentially backfire.
According to NBC sports, Bruce wanted to end up “anywhere but New York.” However, the Mets told the veteran that the club plans on having him open the season as the everyday rightfielder. The 30-year-old slugger led the national league in RBI’s at the time the Mets acquired him. In the middle of a career year, Bruce was shipped over to New York where he struggled mightily the final two months of the season slashing a mere .219/.294/.391 with only 8 home runs and 19 RBI in 187 plate appearances. Despite his struggles, the Mets continued to give him time in the lineup. Bruce’s horrid end to the season should not have come as a surprise to the Mets considering his entire career numbers in the second half. Bruce’s second half average is .015 less than his career first half average (.254), and his K% on average rises 2.3 percent in the second half of the season. Furthermore, Bruce has played 184 more total games in the first half of the season compared to the second half which exposes his durability issues and concerns. But, most importantly, in nine years in the majors, Bruce has only played ten postseason games. If the Mets want to continue to make the playoffs and be successful in future playoff runs, they need players with playoff experience, especially if they are paying Bruce $8.5 million a year.
While two spots in the outfield are already rightfully taken by Yoenis Cespedes and Curtis Granderson, the Mets chose to fill the last position with Bruce. However, with young players like Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo and Juan Lagares that have all helped the team in the past and look to continue to make an impact.
Undoubtedly, Conforto struggled in 2016, especially against left-handed pitching. But the 10th overall pick showed great promise and timeliness as he belted two HRs and batted .313 in the World Series last year to go along with a .270 batting average in the regular season. If Conforto continues to hit the ball the other way, he could potentially be the next man up for Bruce.
Another replacement is former gold-glover Juan Lagares, who struggles as a hitter but makes up for it with his fielding. A very useful late inning defensive player could become an everyday starter if his offensive game can continue to improve. The youngest of the three, Brandon Nimmo, has also made his case that he can be an everyday MLB outfielder. Nimmo tore up AAA last year hitting .352 and finally got his chance when Conforto began to struggle. The 23-year-old from Wyoming gave the Mets a spark during a low point in their season and finished out his first stint with a .274 average with six home runs in just 30 games.
With several other options in the outfield, the Mets should not hesitate to bench Bruce again if his struggles roll over into 2017 despite his contract.