After acquiring Jay Bruce from the Cincinnati Reds at the trade deadline last season, the Mets played with a platoon of outfielders. Bruce was added to an already crowded outfield of Yoenis Cespedes, Curtis Granderson, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, and Juan Lagares. After several failed attempts this offseason to deal the 29 year old lefty slugger, the Mets are stuck in the same situation as last season with Bruce as they head into 2017. However, this may actually be the best case scenario for the Mets.
The trade market proved to be very slim this offseason, as there were no suitors interested in acquiring Jay Bruce. In his last year of a six year, $51 million contract, Bruce is owed $13 million in 2017. To trade Bruce, the Mets would have had to basically give him away for less in return because there were not many teams willing to pay the remaining of his contract this season. Jay Bruce, at 29 years old, is still in his prime. Although he hit just .219 with eight home runs and 19 RBIs in 169 at-bats with the Mets last season, there is reason to believe he will bounce back this year. Coming from a Cincinnati Reds’ team that was by no means a playoff contender to a big market city and New York Mets’ team in the middle of a pennant race, Bruce was clearly pressing.
The Mets expect Jay Bruce to be an everyday outfielder this season , which should put him, Cespedes, and Granderson on the opening day lineup card April 3rd at Citi Field against the Atlanta Braves. This leaves Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, and Juan Lagares out of a starting spot. Conforto was disappointing last season as he fell victim to the “sophomore slump”. He struggled to keep a roster spot with the Mets and bounced up and down from the Triple-A farm team, the Las Vegas 51’s. The 23 year old hit just .220 with and finished with 12 home runs and 42 RBIs in his second big league season. I expect Michael Conforto to be impacted most by this overcrowded outfield. He can be a .275 or better hitter that can drive the ball the other way with power, but he needs to be an everyday player. Conforto struggled massively last season when he was not a starter and was limited to pinch-hitting roles.
Juan Lagares was hurt much of last season, as he played through a partially torn ligament in his thumb. This season, Lagares should get playing time against left-handed pitching and can be used as a defensive replacement and pinch-runner late in games. Brandon Nimmo seems to be the odd one out in the Mets’ outfield this season. Sandy Alderson can use Nimmo as trade bait for bullpen help down the stretch, or monitor how the 23 year old progresses in Triple-A.
If Jay Bruce is unable to provide adequate production in the lineup, the Mets can always look to deal him later this season. Alderson has quickly gained a reputation for making big time moves leading up to and during the trade deadline the past two seasons. As injury prone as many Mets’ players have proven to be over the years, it isn’t the worst situation in the world having too many outfielders.