Jay Bruce Returns To The Mets – Why?
The free agent market has been stagnant, and to the surprise of many, the Mets made a splash signing Jay Bruce to a backloaded three year $39 million contract.
Whenever a team makes a move, it tells you something about the team. It tells you something about how the team views both its postseason chances and the composition of their roster.
The problem with Bruce is you don’t know exactly what his signing is telling you about the team.
Prior to Bruce signing, Michael Conforto was penciled in as the 2018 right fielder. At least, that is the case when Conforto was to return.
While the Mets have been publicly bullish on his return, they readily admit he won’t be ready by Opening Day. Beyond that, we don’t know because there is no timetable.
And even when he returns, we don’t know if he will return to his All Star form.
Are we to read the Bruce signing as Conforto being out longer than anticipated and/or the Mets being uneasy about what Conforto will be when he returns?
Last year, Juan Lagares returned to his best defensive center fielder in baseball form with him leading all MLB center fielders in UZR/150.
As if this wasn’t enough to get you at least intrigued about him returning to an everyday role, Lagares is working with the coach who completely changed the course of J.D. Martinez‘s career.
That coaches helped Martinez go from a .250/.272/.378 hitter in 2013 to a .315/.358/.553 hitter the following season. For a point of reference, Lagares hit .250/.296/.365 last year.
If Bruce stays in right, this would mean Conforto would go to center when he comes off the DL thereby forcing Lagares to the bench.
Are the Mets really willing to make Lagares a high paid defensive replacement with him making $6.5 million this year and $9 million the next? Is it possible the Mets aren’t interested in seeing whether Lagares could become at least an improved hitter thereby bringing him closer to the 5.5 win player they so eagerly extended prior to the 2015 season?
There’s no doubt Dominic Smith had a disappointing stint in the majors last year posting a -1.2 WAR in 49 games. After that stretch, the Mets let anyone who’d listen know they’ve soured on Smith. Even with them walking it back a bit, they still have been actively looking for a first baseman this offseason.
Here’s the thing – not only has Smith been getting in much better shape this offseason, but he’s also been a player who has gotten better after some early struggles at his new level.
Last year, Smith hit .324/.377/.498 in April in May. After that, he hit .336/.394/.537 until he was called up to the majors.
In Double-A in 2016, he hit .267/.317/.396 in April and May. After that, Smith hit .323/.397/.495.
What if Smith follows a similar path this season? Are you willing to bench him or demote him to Triple-A when he’s playing well?
One of the biggest issues with the 2017 Mets was their defense. They did not have a positive defender anywhere across the field. Things are going to be just as bad, if not worse, with this signing.
Likely, Bruce signing means an outfield of Yoenis Cespedes-Conforto-Bruce. Last year, Conforto had a -4 DRS in center in just 328.2 innings there. Based upon those numbers, why would the Mets actively look to put him in center not just this year, but over the next three years?
Also, why would you ask a player coming back from a significant shoulder injury to play a relatively unfamiliar position he has not had an opportunity to prepare to play this offseason?
This is asking for more poor defense from the Mets. That become all the more puzzling when we are currently playing in an era where batters focus on hitting the ball in the air.
Initially, it was believed the Mets had around $30 million to spend this offseason. However, after the Anthony Swarzak signing and Sterling Equities getting involved in the Islanders Belmont arena, that number was reportedly lowered to just $10 million remaining to spend in free agency.
If we take a look at Bruce’s backloaded deal, you will notice he is slated to earn $10 million next year. Is this really an accident? If it isn’t does this mean the Mets just spent all of their money on a right fielder when they are already had one? Why would you do that with huge holes on this roster including second base?
Building A Complete Roster
It is quite surprising Bruce was the choice. Todd Frazier, Mike Moustakas, Howie Kendrick, Lorenzo Cain, and Addison Reed remain free agents. Each one of those players fills a real need on this roster. Bruce is a luxury item that based upon budget reports prevents another move.
Such a move would be Jason Kipnis, who Jon Heyman of Fan Rag Sports reports the Mets nixed a deal for him over money. Whether that was before or after signing Bruce is not clear. What is clear is the Mets still have limited resources, and they are now allocating them poorly.
Where to Go From Here
At the moment, the Mets are eventually going to be forced to figure out what to do with Lagares and Smith once Conforto is healthy. However, that is a little down the road. At the moment, the question is what do the Mets do to fill their other needs.
They just nixed Kipnis over $30.7 million over the next two years with a third year option. Are we really to believe Josh Harrison and his being owed $11.5 million with successive options is that much more palatable? If so, can we really believe the Mets will get him over teams like the Yankees who have a much deeper farm system?
Also, what are the Mets going to do to address the rest of the bullpen and their bench. Seeing where the finances are, it is not likely the Mets do much. This likely translates to a Jose Reyes reunion despite him being one of the worst regulars in all of baseball last year posting a -1.7 WAR.
And that’s the problem. Rather that looking to make significant improvements with their payroll constraints, Sandy Alderson and the Wilpons are going with a failed measure. Add power. Eschew defense. Go with guys you like personally. Hope it works out. Well, it didn’t work in 2017, and with a worse roster heading into next year, it’s not likely to work again in 2018.
So overall, the Bruce signing really doesn’t address any problems, it creates more issues, and it likely assures the Mets will not be competing for a spot in the postseason next year.