Pitchers and catchers for the Mets are to report for spring training on February 12th, just over a month from now. Position players are to report on the 17th. For the Mets, time is ticking for them to trade Jay Bruce. The Mets could very well end up starting spring training with Bruce at this rate, with players like Mark Trumbo and Jose Bautista still available on the free agent market.
If the Mets are unable to trade Bruce by opening day, Michael Conforto may be pushed to a bench role with Granderson getting the majority time in centerfield. While Bruce batting behind Cespedes sounds like a great combination in the middle of the order in theory, Bruce’s ability to play under the large spotlights in New York City has been heavily questioned and criticized. In the two months Bruce spent with the Mets after being acquired at the trade deadline, Bruce batted just .219, with just 8 homers and 19 runs batted in. When he was traded to the Mets, Bruce was leading the league in runs batted in. While Bruce finished with a hot streak over the last couple of weeks of the regular season, many Mets fans don’t see Bruce as a fit for the Mets.
At the moment, Bruce is preventing Michael Conforto from being the Mets everyday rightfielder in 2017, to which the Mets organization has expressed a desire to have Conforto be an everyday player next season in order for him to rebound from his sophomore slump. This brings to question what the Mets should do if they can’t trade Bruce by the start of the season. I feel that Bruce should get some reps at first base during spring training. While Lucas Duda hit 57 homers between 2014 and 2015, he has shown that he is too streaky. Duda’s homers come in bunches. It feels as though Duda will got scorching hot for two weeks, and then ice cold for the next month. I, along with many other fans, get frustrated watching his at-bats, taking 2-0 pitches fastballs right down the middle and swinging at 3-2 sliders in the dirt. In addition to that, Duda is coming off a season in which he barely played due to suffering a stress fracture in his back. There’s no telling how effective Duda will be in 2017 after recovering from this injury. Bruce has played 3 career games at first base in his major league career, all of which came in 2014. He didn’t look good at the position, committing 2 errors in those 3 games. However, taking spring training to learn and improve at that position may prove to be very helpful for Bruce.
As for if the Mets can trade Bruce, some teams that have expressed at least mild interest include the Phillies, Rangers, Blue Jays, and Orioles. I don’t see a trade between the Mets and Blue Jays occurring, because it’s no secret that the Mets want a solid relief pitcher in return for Bruce, and the only one the Blue Jays have is Roberto Osuna, who is likely off-limits. The player that the Blue Jays are willing to trade is Dalton Pompey, another outfielder that the Mets don’t need. As for the Rangers, the only way I see a trade happening between these two teams is if the Rangers offer either Jonathon Lucroy (they won’t) or reliever Jeremy Jeffress, who the Mets tried to trade for around last season’s trade deadline. Jeffress had a solid 2016 season, putting up 27 saves (all with the Brewers) and posting an ERA of 2.33 between the Brewers and Rangers. The only issue with Jeffress is that he was arrested last August for driving while intoxicated. He could potentially be a poor clubhouse presence. Regardless, it is possible that the Mets could trade Bruce for Jeffress. The Phillies don’t appear to be a realistic trade partner since they don’t have much to offer the Mets. The Orioles, in my opinion, are the most realistic option. Despite trading for outfielder Seth Smith last week, the Orioles are still in search of a DH/outfielder. According to multiple sources, the Orioles seem very unlikely to re-sign Mark Trumbo, with whom they have spent much of the offseason talking with. During the winter meetings, the Mets offered Bruce to the O’s for reliever Brad Brach, but were turned down because the Orioles wanted the Mets to pay Bruce’s $13 million. With teams more desperate at this point in the offseason, the Mets and Orioles could end up resuming trade talks concerning Bruce and Brach. A deal like this seems to work for both sides. The Mets would get a dominant relief pitcher in Brach, who posted a 2.05 ERA while striking out 92 in 79 innings pitched. The Orioles would get a power hitter to provide protection for Chris Davis and Manny Machado in the hitter-friendly Camden yards.
While Bruce still hasn’t been traded, I still expect him to start the 2017 season on another team. The Mets have been waiting patiently for the right deal to form for them. As the free agent market diminishes, the Mets may hear more from other teams regarding Jay Bruce. For now, it’s a waiting game.