The Mets are tripping over themselves for the wrong guy

ConfortoBack 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.

22 comments for “The Mets are tripping over themselves for the wrong guy

  1. BK
    March 3, 2017 at 9:27 am

    They should just treat Bruce as a sunk cost and keep him on the bench. The smart business move may be to get your money’s worth on the $13M player (who never should have been acquired in the first place). But the smart baseball move is to give Conforto ABs.

    • Fletcher Rabbit
      March 3, 2017 at 11:22 am

      Yeah! Why don’t we just order one of those other 29 teams to trade their # 1 prospect to us for Jay Bruce? After all, we are the Mets — and they just exist to serve as our 5A farm clubs, right? Fans: if we can see that Bruce is a dog, don’t you think the other clubs know it too?

      Editor’s Note – Please do not capitalize words in your post, as that is a violation of our Comment Policy.

  2. Reese
    March 3, 2017 at 9:49 am

    Right sentiment but perhaps wrong position, BK. Duda is inexpensive and with a good first half becomes a valuable trade chip. Bruce needs to play every day if there’s any hope of getting someone to bite on a trade. Granderson is the one who’s a sunk cost and whose value is pretty nil. He should sit on the bench and let Conforto play CF. There have been others who were not graced with tremendous speed who dominated in CF. A guy named DiMaggio was a pretty fair outfielder and his team got to reap the benefits of his bat. Conforto is no DiMaggio but he certainly looks athletic enough to play a credible CF and has more of an arm than Granderson did in his prime.

    • March 3, 2017 at 9:59 am

      “Joe was nicknamed ‘Joltin’ Joe’ for his speed on the basepath. In high school, he was part of an efficient double play combination with with (sic) future infielder/coach/scout Dario Lodigiani.”

      http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Joe_DiMaggio

      In 1939, DiMaggio was nicknamed the “Yankee Clipper” by Yankee’s stadium announcer Arch McDonald, when he likened DiMaggio’s speed and range in the outfield to the then-new Pan American airliner.

      This was grabbed from DiMaggio’s Wikipedia entry and the quote is from Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life by Richard Ben Cramer.

      You can’t look at DiMaggio’s SB numbers and conclude he had little speed.

    • Jimmy P
      March 3, 2017 at 11:54 am

      Reese:

      >> Bruce needs to play every day if there’s any hope of getting someone to bite on a trade. <<

      Sigh.

      This is a good way to compound your mistakes, doubling down on a bad decision — and possibly losing games in the process.

      I'm saying: Do what you think gives the Mets the best chance to win, period.

      If you think that means playing Bruce every day, then fine, that's a defensible POV. But please don't follow some hair-brained scheme to magically increase Jay Bruce's value in the eyes of GMs. He's a well-known quantity, and no hot or cold six weeks is going to significantly change the market.

      Play the best players.

      If the decision is that Jay Bruce is not the best option in RF, then move him out of the way. Cut your loses, move on. But under no circumstances do you play the inferior option every day because you are trying to make a bad decision seem less bad come July.

      OTOH, if he does play great, then the plan is to trade away? That seems equally unrealistic. If I look up in July and Jay Bruce has helped the Mets win games, I'm feeling pretty good about things, I'm not looking for a way to "get maximum value" out of him by shipping him to a contender.

      • March 3, 2017 at 12:00 pm

        If Bruce is pushing the team into first, I take a look at a few nuggets first. Is anyone else also carrying the team, how does Conforto look, what’s the return for Jay…

        If he’s red hot but we’re loaded with red hot players, trade him for a major piece/prospect and free up the cash to extend our young pitching.

      • MattyMets
        March 3, 2017 at 2:22 pm

        Jimmy P – actually, doubling down on a bad decision was what Alderson did when he picked up Bruce’s option. Hanging on to him for max trade value in spite of all signs pointing to him as a square peg is tripling down.

        • Jimmy P
          March 3, 2017 at 4:27 pm

          There was a great article in the WSJ recently about the devaluing of power in MLB. Or perhaps let’s call it the “market correction,” in light of newer, deeper analysis of what “good players” do on the field to help teams win. Catching a ball, running the bases, and so on. The younger GMs seem to be thinking differently about the game. Makes sense.

          This off-season, possibly because of a glut of power hitters hitting the market, we saw MLB respond with a shrug of its collective shoulders.

          Which brings me to “Moneyball,” which as I understand it was never about OBP, it was about finding inefficiencies in the marketplace. That’s why Michael Lewis gets paid to speak to Wall Street businesses. He’s not talking about OBP — the target will always be moving — he’s talking about using new tools to seek a competitive edge.

          When it came to power and baseball in 2017, it seems like the last person to get the memo was the Mets GM, Sandy Alderson. Would that be ironic? I’ll have to ask Alanis Morrisette.

          It could be that next season we see a correction in the opposite direction, so I’m not ready to name this trend a fixture of modern baseball. But clearly players like Jay Bruce aren’t valued the way they used to be, even if he puts up 30-90 in scary, bright, loud NYC.

          And again, I personally thought picking up the option was a no-brainer, because he’d be easy to trade. But I’m just a guy on a computer, not someone paid millions a year with incredible access to scouts, experts, other GMs, etc.

          Watch Jay Bruce becomes NL MVP for the Mets in 2017.

          I’ll happily eat that hat!

          • John
            March 4, 2017 at 4:19 pm

            Everyone seems to be forgetting that they exercised Bruce’s option because it didn’t look like they could resign Cespedes. This was basically an insurance policy.

            • Metsense
              March 5, 2017 at 7:14 am

              I also thought of Bruce as an insurance policy. Looking back, the Mets could have let Bruce go and signed Desmond or Fowler if Cespedes did not sign.That would have changed the look of the offense. It would have have left the Mets an outfield of Conforto, Fowler or Desmond, and Granderson and around $22M in the Wilpon’s pocket. Shoulda, coulda, woulda, but going into the season I am very content with the lineup and depth. I don’t expect the GM to have a crystal ball and he was not the only executive (or agent) that misread the lumbering power market.

              • March 5, 2017 at 8:56 am

                Fowler signed for 5/$82.5 and Desmond signed for 5/$70. And those were without the Mets involved in the bidding, which only would have driven the price up. What’s the largest contract Alderson has signed for a guy who hasn’t played in NY before? Personally, I don’t see Alderson bettering, or even matching, the deals those guys got elsewhere. Even if it would have resulted in savings compared to Cespedes.

                You can say that at the time, few – if any – expected those two would get those contracts. I know I was speculating a Granderson-level deal for Fowler and no one suggested that wasn’t going to be enough. But if we’re going to play that game, we go right back to thinking that Alderson could have traded Bruce for a quality 7th inning guy.

      • Eraff
        March 3, 2017 at 5:34 pm

        Thank You!!!!! This is about optimizing wins!!

  3. MattyMets
    March 3, 2017 at 10:01 am

    Like Kenny Rogers said, “you got to know when to fold ’em.”

    Brian J – like the new banner

  4. Popeye
    March 3, 2017 at 10:18 am

    Conforto the next DiMaggio? I like it!

  5. Eraff
    March 3, 2017 at 11:36 am

    Wow, we started with Gregg Jefferies and ended with Joltin’ Joe!!!!

  6. Nym
    March 3, 2017 at 2:25 pm

    I am pro Conforto and think he should play. But I don’t think Bruce being here will ruin team “chemistry”. No need to force him out when there are so many injury questions on this team. Also lets not forget Conforto was handed the job last year and blew it. He’s the main reason the Bruce trade happened.

    To me the solution should be fairly simple. If no trade is out there keep them all on the roster and start the best players.

  7. March 3, 2017 at 6:10 pm

    What we saw last year from Jay Bruce was putrid.

    I don’t blame anyone for being down on him. But I wonder if we’re over-penalizing him – both for what we saw last year when he was in a Mets uniform and also for what he doesn’t do well.

    Bill James in the early 80s criticized the Mets for how they handled Wally Backman, saying they were so caught up on what he couldn’t do (field at a Gold Glove level) that they ignored what he could do.

    As bad as Bruce was the final two months last year, he finished with a wOBA within four points of Giancarlo Stanton, Bryce Harper and Adam Eaton. Just because he did the bulk of his hitting while with the Reds doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

    Could Conforto do everything Bruce could do for $12.5 million cheaper? Perhaps. But Bruce has put up a wOBA of .340 or more in five of the past seven seasons, including last year. The Mets aren’t blocking Conforto trying to catch lightning in a bottle from a guy who was last productive five years ago.

    He’s a legitimate starting RF from an offensive POV. And his defense after the deal was not awful.

    Is the situation ideal? No. Is it anything that’s likely to torpedo the team’s season? No. I’m not going to be down on him in Spring Training. I think what he’s shown as a hitter throughout his MLB career should get him at least two months of the regular season before the vitriol starts.

    I mean, we had someone here ask about Ike Davis the other day! How can parts of the fan base still think kindly of that guy while (edit: wanting) to run Bruce out of town with a pitchfork?

    • Chris F
      March 4, 2017 at 9:26 am

      Well said.

    • Jimmy P
      March 4, 2017 at 11:05 am

      While I see the merit of your main point — he’s not that bad — I feel that leaning so hard on OBA (calculated using linear weights and tea leaves) tends to obscure things. Why dig so obscurely to make a point?

      Yes, Bruce was putrid in NY during the heat of a pennant chase: 219/.294/391. He disappeared like a puff of smoke. He was an abomination across 50 games. He scored 14 runs (8 HRs). It was really, really bad.

      Overall, with more than half his season played in a band box for a lousy team, under no pressure, he put up .250/.309/.506 slash. His value entirely by virtue of his power. We know he can’t run the bases and field.

      Harper’s slash in an extremely down year: .243/.373/.441.

      Studies point out that one of the problems with OPS is that it mashes OBP & SLG as if they were equals, and of course they are not at all the same thing. Generally statisticians will argue that OBP is more important, more valuable, toward creating runs. That is a line of .250/.350/.300 is more valuable than .250/.300/.350. Bruce’s extremely low, fairly pathetic OBP is a significant problem. He makes outs.

      Stanton had a rough year: .240/.326/.489.

      And Eaton, not sure how he got in here: .284/.362/.428. Totally different player. I’d much rather have him than Jay Bruce. I think all of baseball would. But I guess their OBA, calculated using linear weights and a ouija board, says they were just about the same last season. Shrug.

      The big one stat mashups lack all nuance.

      Jay Bruce is a terribly limited ballplayer and the baseball world is waking up to that fact. But what sucks for the Mets is the duplication. Sure, there’s still value for all teams to have a big, lumbering, no-glove slugger with a vacant stare in the 6 or 7 spot. Those HRs are great plays. The problem is the Mets already have Lucas Duda. And Granderson, who whiffs and hits the long ball from the left side too. When constructing an offense, you can’t look at OBA and go with it. You need an assortment of skills and types. You need complementary pieces. You need defense and speed. You need guys who get on base.

      My problem with Jay Bruce is not just the individual player, it’s the decision-making process that represents a poor use of resources. Is he not terrible? No, he’s not terrible.

      • March 4, 2017 at 11:44 am

        I don’t see how in one breath you criticize wOBA for using linear weights and properly measuring all offensive contributions and in the next criticize OPS for not being precise enough.

        If you want something easy to understand that gets you close enough to the right answer, use OPS
        If you want something better – use wOBA

        It’s not rocket science.

      • John
        March 4, 2017 at 4:36 pm

        All of these statistical measures do have some value. But they don’t tell all of the story. When you look at the definition of wOBA it notes that not all hits are equal. I agree.
        But just as true is that not all outs are equal. There is a big difference between an infield popup and a deep fly when there is a runner on third and one out. There is a big difference in a ground ball to the right side with a runner on second and no out and a strikeout with one out and a strikeout in the same situation.
        Stats in a marathon season do tend to tell an accurate story. But it is not the whole story. At the end of the day the only stat that is truly meaningful is how many wins your team has at the end of the season.

  8. Eraff
    March 3, 2017 at 11:14 pm

    The “too many players ‘Problem’ ” generally works itself out… the problems with skill and platoon repitition will make it a lot harder.

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