Mets Should Pick Up Jay Bruce’s Option
No matter how you look at it, the Jay Bruce acquisition has been a disaster for the Mets. In 40 games, Bruce has hit .176/.255/.289 with only four doubles, four homers, and 11 RBI. Bruce has gone from the major league leader in RBI to tied for 30th in the majors and 10th in the National League. He went from hitting .360 with runners in scoring position to .172 with the Mets.
Yesterday was rock bottom for him. He got mixed up with Curtis Granderson on a catchable flyball that lead to a Matt Kemp RBI single instead of a an out with Bruce having a chance to throw the runner out at home. At the plate, Bruce was 0-3. Worse yet, when the Mets were rallying to try the game, Terry Collins pinch hit Eric Campbell for him when the Braves brought in the lefty Ian Kroll to face him. Bruce was brought to the Mets just for these RBI situations. However, it has now gotten to the point that no one trusts him in those spots.
Bruce’s struggles have led some to suggest the Mets should decline Bruce’s $13 million option and give him his $1 million buy out. If the Mets were to do that, it would be a very poor decision.
Over his career, Bruce is a .247/.317/.465 hitter who averages 26 homers and 81 RBI. With Bruce turning 30 years old next year, there is every reason to believe Bruce’s struggles with the Mets are the result of a player struggling when joining a new team more than it is a Jason Bay falling apart when signing the Mets and playing his games under the old outfield configurations of Citi Field. So yes, there is reason to believe Bruce will return to form next season whether or not he is wearing a Mets uniform.
Admittedly, the Mets are going to have a glut of outfielders next year. Curtis Granderson is under contract for another year. The Mets figure to give Michael Conforto an everyday job next year. Juan Lagares should be healthy and could form a center field platoon with Brandon Nimmo. Furthermore, Justin Ruggiano, who mashed lefties in the short time he was with the Mets, is arbitration eligible. In addition to that, the Mets should do all they can to bring back Yoenis Cespedes in the even he opts out of his contract. Looking over this list, it’s hard to find a spot for Bruce in the Mets outfield.
The Mets could shift Bruce to first base. However, Lucas Duda, who has been a much better offensive player than Bruce, is still under team control. Additionally, with the overcrowded outfield, it is possible the Mets will seek to move Conforto to first base as has been recommended by Keith Hernandez. Overall, no matter where you look, there may not be room for Bruce. With that in mind, why pick up his option?
The reason is Bruce is an asset in what is going to be a weak free agent class. After Cespedes, the best free agent outfielders will be Ian Desmond, Mark Trumbo, and Jose Bautista. Each of these free agents have their own issues.
Desmond was a surprising All Star outfielder after struggling last year with the Nationals. However, overlooking his stats, Desmond has a number of issues. First, he is hitting .239/.287/.362 in the second half. Second, he’s showing himself to be a platoon bat hitting .272/.329/.442 against righties and .338/.373/.507 against lefties. Lastly, Desmond appears to be a product of Globe Life Park hitting .336/.374/.516 at home and .244/.309/.405 on the road.
Trumbo is essentially Bruce with vastly inferior defense. He also has the same issues as Desmond. He’s hitting .188/.266/.431 in the second half. He’s hitting .183/.232/.415 against lefties. He’s also hitting .257/.337/.552 at Camden Yards and .242/.282/.498 on the road.
Bautista is a 35 year old outfielder who has taken a step back this season. Over his last six seasons with the Blue Jays, he played at a superstar level hitting .268/.390/.555 while averaging 38 homers and 97 RBI. This year he is only hitting .258/.359/.433 with only 18 homers and 59 RBI.
Another team could look at these options and determine they would rather obtain Bruce who should have similar production at a reasonable $13 million price tag. Teams may also prefer to keep their first round pick rather than give it up for Desmond, Trumbo, or Bautista. Additionally, if Bruce bounces back from his struggles with the Mets, the acquiring team could make him a qualifying offer allowing them to obtain a compensatory first round pick in the event Bruce leaves them next offseason.
There’s the other issue. Cespedes is far from a lock to return. In that scenario, the Mets may feel compelled to find a player who can put up the power numbers Cespedes does. Like it or not, the Mets only real opportunity to replace Cespedes’ bat in the lineup will be a Bruce caliber bat. With Bruce most likely being the cheapest option as well as the option that doesn’t require the Mets to forfeit a first round pick, he is probably the Mets best Cespedes replacement (NOTE: no one can truly replace Cespedes).
So yes, Bruce has been a terrible with the Mets. However, that shouldn’t prevent the Mets from picking up his option as he is going to have value for someone next year. Just cross your fingers that team won’t be the Mets.