The Bruce is Loose

By Ethan Marshall

 

The Mets’ trade of Jay Bruce to the Indians speaks a lot about the state of the organization right now.  Ownership appears to be focused more on saving money than getting valuable prospects in return.  While the trades of Lucas Duda to the Rays and Addison Reed to the Red Sox allowed for the Mets to save money too, the prospects received in return may prove valuable pieces of the Mets bullpen in the near future.  All of the young arms the Mets acquired in these trades are described as throwing in the mid-to-upper-90s by scouts.  All three of the pitchers acquired for Reed are hard-throwing 22-year-olds.  However, some of the pitchers are further along in their development than others.

The pitcher the Mets received for Jay Bruce, Ryder Ryan, wasn’t even a ranked prospect in the Indians’ system.  A 30th round pick, Ryan has posted a 4.50 ERA in two minor league seasons.  Considering how solid Bruce has been this season, this trade is mind-boggling.  According to Ken Rosenthal, the Mets were focused more on getting a team to pick up the $5 million remaining on Bruce’s contract than to receive decent prospects in return.  This is further shown by the fact that the Yankees were willing to give the Mets multiple prospects who were much better than Ryan in exchange for Bruce if the Mets were willing to take on 4/5 of his salary.

For several years, Mets fans have complained about the Wilpons preferring to pad their own wallets rather than improving the team they own.  This trade has only added more fuel to this notion.  As far as MLB contracts are concerned, $5 million isn’t that much money.  If the goal is to save money for free agent signings in the upcoming offseason, the Mets could’ve (and should’ve) taken the Yankees offer, which allowed them to save some money while also gain valuable prospects in return.  By trading Bruce for what likely amounts to a player who will never see the MLB, the Mets wasted one of their most valuable trade chips.  They likely would’ve received a better return by keeping Bruce and giving him a qualifying offer at the end of the season.

 

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Drew Smith pitching for the Rays’ Advanced A Charlotte Stone Crabs.  Photo Credit: Dilip Sridhar.

Drew Smith was Tampa Bay’s 30th ranked prospect when he was traded, with a fastball that could reach 98 m.p.h.  He has pitched well at each level in the minors, posting a career 1.74 ERA with 141 strikeouts in 129 innings.  While he was assigned by the Mets to AA Binghamton, Smith could play a valuable role for the team in 2018.

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Stephen Nogosek pitching for the Oregon Ducks college baseball team.  Photo credit: Mark Humphrey.

Stephen Nogosek may be the furthest from being major-league ready among the young arms the Mets received from Boston.  However, he was also the highest-rated among the three pitchers acquired for Reed, at number 18.  He was assigned to High-A St. Lucie upon his acquisition.  He’s posted a 3.27 ERA with 99 strikeouts in 85.1 innings pitched in the minors.  The main point of concern for Nogosek right now is that he has control problems, with a career 3.5 walks per nine innings.  While he clocks in as reaching 96 miles per hour, his fastball has no movement whatsoever.

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Jamie Callahan pitching for the Red Sox low-A affiliate Lowell Spinners.  Photo credit: Jonathan Raymond.

Jamie Callahan may debut for the Mets as early as September.  He’s currently pitching for AAA Las Vegas.  In 376 career minor league innings, Callahan has posted a 4.79 ERA with 365 strikeouts.  His velocity typically sits in the mid-90s.  He was ranked as the 23rd-best prospect in the Red Sox system.  Since being moved from a starter to a reliever, his velocity has increased from the low-90s to the mid-to-upper-90s.  He has a great splitter that has become his out-pitch.  However, like Nogosek, Callahan has very little movement on his four-seamer and has control issues, with 4 walks per nine innings in 28 innings pitched this season.

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Gerson Bautista pitching for the Red Sox organization.  Photo credit: Kelly O’Connor.

 

Gerson Bautista has a 2.73 ERA with 167 strikeouts in 198 innings in his minor league career thus far.  He was ranked as the 28th-best prospect in the Red Sox farm system upon being traded.  Along with Nogosek, Bautista was assigned to High-A St. Lucie.  He’s shown the ability to reach 100 miles per hour at times, but also has control problems, with 4.1 walks per nine innings in his career.  While he does have a slider that sits in the high 80s, he hasn’t mastered the pitch yet.  The slider can prove to be very effective if he can get better control and movement from it.  Another issue is that he was suspended in 2013 for testing positive for PED use.

The trade of Bruce may also signify the Mets may not be that interested in attempting to re-sign him in the offseason.  While the Mets recently said they believe Michael Conforto could play centerfield in the long term, this trade may mean they will be pursuing a centerfielder in the offseason and move Conforto to rightfield.  As a result, the Mets may be more focused on pursuing Lorenzo Cain than Jay Bruce this winter.

The Mets basically traded Bruce for money.  Players who are usually traded for cash are usually minor leaguers who may have had cups of coffee in the majors, not star players. The one positive thing to come out of this trade is that, unlike the Rangers with Ernesto Frieri, the Mets didn’t trade Bruce for $1.

Who’s at First?

By Ethan Marshall

 

With Mets first baseman Lucas Duda dealing with back and hip issues, now is the time for the Mets to test out some of their other players at first base.  While there is no reason to think right now that Duda won’t be healthy by opening day, the Mets will need to have a backup plan at first in case Duda gets hurt, remains hurt, or struggles.  It is worth noting that Duda missed most of last season due to a stress fracture in his back.

The leading candidates to take over first base for Duda are Neil Walker and Jay Bruce.  Both players have been taking reps at the position this spring.  While Walker moving to first base provides flexibility around the infield, allowing for Reyes and Wright to be in the lineup at the same time, it makes way more sense for the Mets to move Bruce to first base.  With Bruce playing first base, Michael Conforto would be able to fit in at right field, solving the logjam the Mets face in their outfield.  Additionally, Wilmer Flores would still see plenty of playing time at first base against lefties if the Mets were to go with Bruce at first base.

Duda’s injury couldn’t have come at a better time.  Since it’s still very early in spring training, Bruce and Walker have plenty of time to get acclimated to the first base position. Even if Duda is healthy again before the end of spring training, the Mets would have should something happen to Duda.

Another first base option could be David Wright.  Wright is still trying to get his arm strength back.  Moving Wright to first base would allow for Reyes to play third while also sparing Wright from having to throw across the diamond.  While this seems practical, it isn’t really necessary for the Mets to have another right-handed hitting first baseman.  The Mets want Flores in the lineup against lefties.  Last season against lefties, Flores hit .340, with a .319 on-base-percentage, .710 slugging percentage, and 11 homers.

 

 

 

 

Conforto Could Start Season in Vegas

When asked about Michael Conforto’s role yesterday, Sandy Alderson hinted at the possibility of having Michael Conforto start the 2017 season in Triple-A.

When asked about the Mets outfield situation, Alderson said “I don’t want to forecast what’s going to happen in spring training, but I don’t see [Conforto] picking up at-bats at first-base, picking up ABs here and there.”  Alderson also joked “Michael Conforto is a long-term asset for us unless we can trade an outfielder for Carmelo Anthony,” on SNY.

If Conforto does end up starting in the minors, Brandon Nimmo may take over the role of the extra left-handed-hitting outfielder.  Putting Conforto in Vegas would allow for him to get regular playing time, something he wouldn’t be able to get with the Mets.

Of course, things can change over the course of spring training.  If Conforto has a very strong spring training while either Curtis Granderson or Jay Bruce struggle, this may make the Mets decide to reward him for his strong play.  Additionally, while Alderson’s statements indicate that Conforto probably won’t be seeing time at first base this spring, that doesn’t necessarily mean Bruce won’t see time there.

Conforto may very well find himself competing for a starting outfield spot this spring.  Even if he doesn’t make the opening day roster, he will probably be the go-to-guy if and when one of the other outfielders gets hurt.  No matter where he starts the 2017 season, he will likely finish it with the Mets.

What Should the Mets do With Conforto?

The Mets intended to trade away Jay Bruce over the offseason in order to clear up the team payroll and the crowded outfield.  With the Mets deciding not to trade Jay Bruce, it appears that Michael Conforto is the odd man out in the outfield.  The Mets wanted to use Conforto as their everyday rightfielder in hopes that putting him in the lineup on a regular basis would help him with his confidence and allow him to recover from the sophomore slump he suffered last season.  As it stands now, Conforto may be reduced to a bench role.

The Mets need to make sure they don’t mishandle the 23-year-old outfielder.  Sending him to the minors doesn’t seem to be a realistic solution at this point, considering he hit .422 in 33 games for the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s in 2016.  The best solution of getting regular playing time for Conforto may be to move him or Jay Bruce to first base.  First baseman Lucas Duda is coming off an injury-plagued 2016 season, and there is some uncertainty to just how healthy and effective he may be in 2017.  Having Bruce or Conforto available to play first base in case Duda is unable to play or struggling allows for Conforto to get extra playing time while also keeping the bat of Bruce in the lineup.

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Michael Conforto.  Photo Credit: Anthony J. Causi.

The Mets can also have Conforto take reps in center field during spring training.  This would allow for an alternative offensive threat from that position if Curtis Granderson is hurt or struggling.  He played 6 games at the position last season without making any errors, though he didn’t seem 100% comfortable at the position.  Having a whole spring training to learn and practice more at this position may let him look and feel more comfortable.

If Conforto is on the bench, it may also be likely that he gets a lot of opportunities pinch-hitting.  Just because he isn’t starting a game doesn’t mean he won’t see a lot of action.  He adds depth to an already impressive Mets bench, providing power and likely getting many opportunities to get big hits and drive in runs.  If Conforto starts to look impressive off the bench, the Mets may just start putting him in the starting lineup over other players who may not be hitting as well as him.  Conforto and the rest of the Mets hitters need to remember Terry Collins’ mantra that the players that are hitting get to be in the strating lineup.

 

Mets Intend to Keep Jay Bruce

Yesterday, the Mets said they intend to keep Jay Bruce as their starting rightfielder.  This would push Michael Conforto to a bench role.  Ever since the Mets re-signed outfielder Yoenis Cespedes in November, the team had been looking to trade Bruce in order to save money as well as to clear up an already crowded outfield.

Just because the Mets said they intend to keep Bruce doesn’t necessarily mean that he won’t be traded.  General manager Sandy Alderson said the same thing about R.A. Dickey shortly after winning the 2012 N.L. Cy Young Award, but traded him away not long after making this statement.  However, it seems unlikely that the Mets would find a suitable trade partner for Bruce at this point.  The only teams connected to him at this point that haven’t found an outfielder or DH are the Rangers and Giants.  In the case of the Rangers, it seems likely that they will be getting Mike Napoli instead of Jay Bruce.  As for the Giants, they may just try to sign a less expensive outfielder on the free agent market since they want to lower their payroll.

If the Mets are truly in a win-now state of mind, they shouldn’t be worrying about trying to lower the payroll by trading Bruce.  They also shouldn’t let the fact that they are keeping Bruce affect who they want to sign to bolster the bullpen.  They should still be trying to re-sign Jerry Blevins and either re-sign Fernando Salas or sign Sergio Romo.  Considering the fact that this is a team with one of the best pitching rotations in all of baseball, they have a good shot at competing for the playoffs.  Adding a couple of bullpen arms may be the key to the Mets making a return to the Fall Classic.  If the team plays well, people will pay for seats to the game.  Money shouldn’t be as big of an issue when the only moves necessary at this point are to sign relievers that may be able to start the season as the 7th and 8th inning guys.

It’s no secret that Blevins wants to return to the Mets, and that the Mets want to bring him back.  At this point, Blevins likely won’t receive the 3-year deal he wanted.  If the Mets offer him a 2-year deal or a decent 1-year deal, Blevins may be willing to take it.  The remaining free agents will likely lower their asking prices more and more as spring training draws closer with each passing day.  The time for the Mets to act on signing relievers is now.  Money shouldn’t get in the way at this point from possibly putting on the finishing touches of a team with the potential to win it all in 2017.  For Alderson and the free agents, time is ticking.

Finding a use for Bruce

With Mark Trumbo re-signing with the Orioles, Jose Bautista re-signing with the Blue Jays, and Michael Saunders signing with the Phillies, the Mets have just about run out of trade options for Jay Bruce.  The remaining teams connected to the Mets concerning a trade for Bruce are the Rangers and the Giants, with the latter only willing to discuss a trade if the Mets take on a significant portion of the $13 million owed to Bruce.  At this point, it looks like the Mets may be stuck with Jay Bruce.

At this point, the Mets should be prepared to find a use for Jay Bruce on the team.  With an overabundance of outfielders,  either Bruce or Michael Conforto will be the odd man out.  Considering the team’s desire to have Conforto play just about every day, it seems likely that either one of the two or both of them could be taking reps and seeing time at first base during spring training.  With Lucas Duda coming off back surgery, his status as the starting first baseman may be called into question.  Bruce or Conforto could split time at first base with Duda against right-handed pitchers, with the player sitting that day providing a threat off the bench later in the game.  Due to Conforto’s young age and the fact that the team wants him to focus on improving his hitting, a position change for him at this moment doesn’t seem likely.  This means that the veteran Bruce is the best candidate to be moved from the outfield to first base.

The Mets hanging onto Bruce by the start of the season can allow Bruce to try to recover from his terrible 2016 as a member of the Mets.  If Bruce can return to the slugger he was with the Reds, the Mets can trade him at the deadline for valuable pieces that they may need, or just keep him, adding depth behind Cespedes and Walker in the middle of the batting order.  It’s worth noting that, despite struggling during his time in New York, Bruce looked much better at the plate over the last two weeks of the regular season.

It doesn’t seem likely that Bruce gets traded before the start of spring training.  The Mets are unwilling to take on any of Bruce’s salary if they are to trade him, which may eliminate the Giants as a possible trade candidate.  If the Rangers valued Bruce in the same way that the Mets value reliever Jeremy Jeffress, it’s likely that a deal would have been done by now.  It’s safe to assume that the Rangers don’t see Bruce as a serious target for them to land.

At this point, the only off-season moves that the Mets should be focused on making before the start of spring training is to add some arms to the bullpen.  I feel that Jerry Blevins should be the main target for the Mets at this point.  If the Mets are willing to give him a 2 year deal, Blevins would probably accept it at this point.  Other relievers that I feel the Mets should consider signing are Fernando Salas, who pitched very well for the Mets last season after being acquired in a trade with the Angels, and Sergio Romo.  Both pitchers wouldn’t be that expensive and have the potential to be good 7th or 8th inning setup men.  Salas did a fine job as the 7th inning man for the Mets late last season, posting an ERA of 2.08 in 17.1 innings.  Romo was one of the few reliable relievers for the Giants last season, posting an ERA of 2.64.  The Mets should try to sign one of the two pitchers in addition to Blevins in order to solidify their bullpen.

At this point, the Mets need to hope that Bruce returns to form, assuming he is a member of the Mets by the start of the season.  If he plays well, the Mets have more depth in their lineup.  If he continues to struggle, they may have to trade him for just some mid-tier major-leaguers or prospects.  All eyes will be on Jay Bruce during spring training, assuming he is still a member of the New York Mets.