Back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s the Mets front office and dugout went to great lengths to accommodate their most promising young player – Gregg Jefferies. For those of you too young to remember, Jefferies was the Bryce Harper of his day, a hardworking, super intense hitter with a fabled workout regimen that involved famously swinging a bat in the swimming pool. Like Harper, Jefferies was immensely talented, but also a polarizing figure with a whiny personality.
As much potential as he brought to the plate, Jefferies was not much of a glove man. The Mets shifted him from third base to second and back to second again (subsequent teams moved him to first and then outfield and DH), much to the detriment of other players, including Dave Magadan, Howard Johnson, Tim Teufel, Wally Backman, and others, who were all either shifted out of position, traded, or benched to make way for the young phenom.
Coming into this season it seemed like Michael Conforto might be handled similarly with a need to bump veteran Curtis Granderson from right field to center, a position he hasn’t played regularly since 2012. However, the inevitable trade of Jay Bruce has yet to materialize and not only are we stuck with his redundant bat, but his $13 million salary and trade value dictates that we must play him every day so long as he’s on our roster. This creates a trickle down effect of still shifting Granderson to center and Lagares to the bench to the detriment of our defense, but also moving Conforto, our most promising young bat, either to the bench or triple A, where he has nothing left to prove.
Alternatively, should Bruce’s mirror image at the plate – Lucas Duda – fail to stay healthy, there’s been talk of the lumbering right fielder with little experience at first taking over there. As if our defense isn’t enough of a concern.
It would be one thing to tweak the roster and lineup to accommodate a young, emerging star like Conforto. But to do so for a veteran of limited ability in the last year of his contract is really quite ridiculous. At the risk of beating a dead horse, Bruce needs to be off the roster by opening day or it’s going to create a serious chemistry problem on this team. If Duda is unable to play, as one writer suggested, we could swap Brandon Nimmo for Matt Adams and have him platoon with Wilmer Flores until Dom Smith is ready.
Bruce is not a first baseman and he’s not a good enough right fielder and hitter to warrant letting Conforto stagnate. Too bad we can’t teach him how to play catcher.