2017 has certainly not lived up to the expectations that the New York Mets had in the beginning of the season. It’s an old story by now, a combination of injuries and players not living up to expectations have resulted in the Mets being 10 games out of the wild card with 6 teams ahead of them in the standings.
As the focus on 2017 shifts from winning now to selling at the deadline, a career year from Jay Bruce is getting lost in the shuffle. He is top ten in home runs with 25, which certainly puts him on pace to match his career high of 34 home runs, not to mention coming close to 100 RBIs. Known as a streaky hitter in his career, Bruce has been remarkably consistent in 2017, a mainstay in the heart of the lineup for the Mets. DL stints for Yoenis Cespedes, Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera had left the once imposing Mets lineup significantly thinned out. The lone bright spots have been Bruce in the middle, and young superstar Michael Conforto in the leadoff spot.
As the trade deadline looms, much of the conversation has been swirling around Addison Reed and Lucas Duda. Reed is a bona fide closer who is in the midst of this third consecutive strong year. With the increasing role of the bullpen in playoff baseball, even teams with a formidable bullpen already are considering paying a lofty price for a strong reliever.
Lucas Duda is also garnering some interest, most notably from the cross-town Yankees, who are in desperate need of a first baseman. Quietly having a formidable year himself, despite missing time, Lucas Duda has always been an underrated yet impactful presence in Queens. Duda would be an obvious beneficiary of the short right field porch in the Bronx, a couple months in a playoff race with the Yankees could re-invigorate Duda just in time for his upcoming free agency.
Jay Bruce, meanwhile, hasn’t been linked to much, if any trade talks. As a fairly-priced power hitting outfielder making $13 million this year, many more teams would rather pay for a pitching rental rather than a corner outfielder. The market is slim for Bruce right now, and if the Mets want to deal him, they’d probably have to take less than he’s worth.
If he ends 2017 as a Met, probably a 60% chance right now, the Mets will be in a curious position as far as what to do with him. The only spots locked up for 2018 in the outfield belong to Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto. Juan Lagares hasn’t provided enough value at the plate to justify him playing every day, not to mention he’s proven injury prone. Another former Mets top prospect, Brandon Nimmo, deserves a chance for sure, but thus far he’s proven just as injury prone as Juan Lagares, providing similar offensive value.
Another possibility, is to have Michael Conforto play center field full time. While not spectacular, he’s certainly not a liability in center. That opens up the possibility of Jay Bruce returning to the fold in right field.
At the very least, the Mets would most likely extend a qualifying offer to Bruce. Perhaps somewhere in the neighborhood of $18 million or so. While it’s not expected that Bruce would take the qualifying offer, it could lead to further contract negotiation, and perhaps a bargain for the Mets. After a rocky start to his Mets tenure, Bruce is now a leader on this team. He’s consistent at the plate, servicible(ish) in right field, and has a strong presence in the clubhouse – something that matters a lot, especially on young teams.
— New York Mets (@Mets) July 20, 2017
The market for a power hitting corner outfielder will be somewhat saturated after the 2017 season. Comparable players like J.D. Martinez, Carlos Gonzalez, Lorenzo Cain and Melky Cabrera are sure to attract offers in the same neighborhood as Jay Bruce, most definitely more in the case of Martinez and Cain. In addition, many teams may choose to spend big money elsewhere and acquire a cheaper, perhaps more veteran outfielder such as Curtis Granderson or Jayson Werth.
All of these factors add up to the likelihood that the Mets could be in a favorable position to lock up Bruce at a reasonable price. The question is, what would a reasonable offer look like? Here’s a look at some key signings from last offseason that could be comparable to Jay Bruce:
Based on this, one could assume that Bruce is looking for 4-5 years at maybe $15 Million. He’s not a Yoenis Cespedes, but he’s better than Josh Redick, and he’s only 30 years old. The Mets could offer a four-year/$55 million contract similar to the one Curtis Granderson signed in 2013. Another fair offer could be three-years/$48 million if the Mets don’t want to invest too long-term.
Bruce is worth two prospects with medium-good upside in a deal, hands down. The issue is, no contender is going to pay that for Bruce when they can get a quality bullpen piece for a similar price, or, a cheaper outfielder (Carlos Gomez, Rajai Davis etc.) As far as value goes, the Mets may get a greater haul by extending a qualifying offer and receiving a compensatory pick if he signs elsewhere.
The bottom line is this – the corner outfield market will be full in the offseason and Bruce may want to take advantage of being in New York and hope, like many Mets fans, that the team stays healthy and makes a run in 2018.