Jay Bruce and the continuing outfield dilemma for the Mets

When the Mets picked up their 2017 option on Jay Bruce last November, it was neither surprising nor exciting. The conventional wisdom was that he was insurance in case the team was unable to bring back Yoenis Cespedes. And if they did re-sign Cespedes, the thought was that he would be flipped elsewhere, most likely for a late-inning, non-closer reliever.

The Mets did ink Cespedes and it certainly appeared from the outside that they tried to trade Bruce for a reliever. But they were unsuccessful, as baseball as a whole seemed to devalue power this offseason. That left the Mets in a quandary. They had four starting outfielders and only three spots to play them. The plan was to have Michael Conforto start the year in the minors, one that frustrated his backers to no end.

While the plan was far from ideal, it was extremely consistent with the club’s M.O. of preferring veterans over rookies/young players whenever possible. The fact that Conforto put up a .174/.267/.330 line over his final 262 PA in 2016 only made it easier for the club to bury him. Yet, injuries gave Conforto a reprieve, as he started the year in the majors, even if it was in a reserve role.

Meanwhile, Bruce, the guy that approximately 98% of the fan base resented and wanted elsewhere, got off to a great start. He had a .954 OPS in April. After hitting a two-week slump in May, Bruce has put up a .917 OPS over his last 41 games. For the year, he leads the team in PA (353), Hits (84), HR (23) and RBI (59). Not bad for a guy that the fans wanted to be traded for a bag of broken bats and a pop-up toaster.

Yet Bruce’s fast start did not prevent Conforto from getting a fair amount of playing time in the first half, too. Much like in 2016, Conforto got off to a great start. But unlike a year ago, he didn’t turn into a pumpkin after experiencing initial success. While it’s true he did fall off from his first 24 games, this time around Conforto has a .252/.396/.477 line in his last 45 games.

Injuries to Cespedes have given Conforto playing time. The slow start by Curtis Granderson also allowed Conforto to keep from being buried on the bench. While Bruce played the vast majority of games, Conforto was still seeing a ton of action through mid-June. But by then Cespedes returned and Granderson was perhaps the best hitter on the team, shaking off his tremendously poor April to put up seven weeks of strong hitting.

Conforto was once again the odd man out. In five games starting June 21, he came off the bench three times and one time that he did start he was lifted in the sixth inning. That early exit was due to being hit on the hand with a pitch, which ultimately led to a DL stint for Conforto. While out with the hand injury, Conforto was selected to be the Mets’ representative for the All-Star game, getting the nod over Bruce. In a season where very little made sense or went right for the Mets, it was somehow appropriate that their token All-Star came down to a guy that they spent all offseason trying to trade and one that they wanted to start the year in the minors.

But when the Mets resume play on July 14, they’ll have the same question they did in late March. How do you handle playing time for four outfielders? Do you bench Bruce, who’s been both very healthy and very productive? Do you bench Conforto, who’s been the team’s best leadoff hitter and who made the All-Star team? Do you bench Granderson, who’s put up a .291/.401/.610 line over his last 207 PA? There’s no easy answer.

One player not mentioned above is Cespedes, who seemingly has sacred cow status. But in his last 15 games, Cespedes has been a complete non-factor. In 63 PA, he’s batting .197 with a .501 OPS. Since being activated from the DL, he has neither walked much nor hit for much power, which has resulted in a .719 OPS despite a .290 BABIP.

While he was a free agent, Cespedes backers loved to talk about how much better the team’s record was with him in the starting lineup. This year when Cespedes starts, the Mets are 17-21.

There are no easy answers when it comes to divvying up playing time for Mets outfielders in the second half. Perhaps a bunch of days off will reinvigorate Cespedes. Maybe an extended layoff will put Granderson into a tailspin. It could be that Bruce will hit like he did with the Mets last year after the break.

The only thing to hope for is that all four guys are given an honest shot. And that contract size or veteran status doesn’t dictate who plays.

13 comments for “Jay Bruce and the continuing outfield dilemma for the Mets

  1. Alex
    July 9, 2017 at 11:01 am

    Crowded OF? Hmmmm, bullpen, starting pitching,terrible defense up the middle, too many OFers isn’t the problem on this team.

    • July 9, 2017 at 11:32 am

      At no point did I say that too many OFers was “the” problem on the team. If that’s the conclusion you came away from reading this piece, I feel sorry for you.

      My goal each week is to write about something that hasn’t been discussed much here at the site. There’s been plenty of discussion about the starters. There’s been plenty of discussion about the bullpen. If that’s what you want to read, it will be easy to find that already discussed. Knock yourself out.

      Edit: Grammar

  2. Matty Mets
    July 9, 2017 at 11:12 am

    At least one of Bruce or Grandy will be traded later this month. Plus these guys have all taken turns getting injured. Now that Cespedes is “healthy” Nimmo and Lagares are both on the DL.

  3. Jimmy P
    July 9, 2017 at 11:58 am

    Bruce is a good player and he’s been impressive all season long.

    I still think it was a misguided signing and a misuse of resources. Starting Conforto in AAA — the plan! — was really stupid and a failure of the organization to properly evaluate & scout their own players.

    They massively whiffed on Murphy, too.

    Again: This is not about the merits of Jay Bruce, but not properly allocating resources. No 3B, a bad bullpen, no upgrade at catcher, no true CF . . . and Conforto in AAA.

    Mets spent $30 million on Walker and Bruce. Maybe if they shopped differently . . .

    • July 9, 2017 at 1:07 pm

      I’ll defend Alderson on what I assume to be the initial plan. Where I think the problem lies is when things don’t go according to plan how the organization reacts. When asked to adjust on the fly, Alderson gets an F.

      When they were unable to trade Bruce, the backup plan was poor.
      When two starters went down in Spring Training, the backup plan was poor.
      When the starters were unable to go deep in games, the backup plan was poor. The manager deserves blame here, too, but if the GM let’s it continue…
      When bullpen moves were needed, the backup plan was poor.
      When the infield defense proved worse than expected, the backup plan was poor.

      And that’s assuming there was a backup plan at all.

      No plan is foolproof and to imagine that you won’t need to make adjustments as the season goes on is unfathomable. I’m not ignoring financial constraints or playing time limitations. There were moves that should have been made that were either low-cost or no-cost and instead we get business as usual and the status quo.

      Hands down the best on the fly move was playing Michael Conforto in CF and batting him leadoff. And my gut tells me the manager deserves way more credit for that than the GM.

      • Chris F
        July 9, 2017 at 5:25 pm

        Agreed.

        One thing tho. No team spends 27 M$ on a player and benches him if he can play. No way. No how.

  4. July 9, 2017 at 6:06 pm

    The team is awful. Yes, sure injuries, injuries, injuries. They have had more than their share, but they also have (had) plenty of depth both in the INF & OF, and starting pitching. Result ? They all stank up the joint !! I gave up after this Cardinal series. I was hoping for a sweep and a 41-45 record, still with hope for a WC run. Now ?
    Sell – off with their heads ! The sooner the better. Bye bye bye – Duda, Walker, Cabrera, Grandy, Reyes, d’Arenot hit the ball or throw anyone out, and I hope Harvey too once he proves healthy. Get rid of this dead weight, and maybe take a stab at actually keeping a good player – Jay Bruce ? He is the only one that came ready to play each and every game and may get something like a 4 year $70m, if not more, deal in today’s market, keep Blevins and also see what it would take to keep Reed for next year. Oh, and don’t forget —- find Terry Collins’ replacement asap.
    He is done like an Easter Pig roasted in a pit.

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

  5. Eraff
    July 9, 2017 at 8:33 pm

    I don’t believe in This Year’s Miracle—but it wouldn’t/coundn’t be a possibility without Ces at the top of his range—and benching him is just not an option.

    What remains is for the three other guys to split OF Play for the two positions, with Grandy and Conforto Spotting Ces a bit.

    Playing 70% or so won’t harm Conforto’s development—his ego will need to absorb it. Meanwhile, miracles aside, Grandy and Jay are boosting whatever Market Value they have.

    Is the Supplemental Draft Pick dead for Free agents???

  6. Metsense
    July 9, 2017 at 10:31 pm

    It would be logical to trade Granderson because of his age and he is not in the 2018 plans. If the Mets are comfotrable will Conforto as their 2018 CF then they should attempt to extend Bruce this month. If they can’t extend him just then they should trade him also. It is time to start making decisions in preparation for the 2018 season.

  7. Eraff
    July 10, 2017 at 7:03 am

    Playing MC in CF, long term, seems like a continuation of a Non-Decision

    • Jimmy P
      July 10, 2017 at 11:07 am

      If Mets are comfortable with Conforto in CF moving forward, they’ve learned nothing from this season about pitching & defense.

      He’s a corner outfielder.

      I’d strongly consider Bruce at 1B, but I’m not sure that Bruce would feel the same way, all things being equal. Does he genuinely want to change positions at this point in his career for the joy of playing baseball in Flushing? I don’t know.

  8. Eric
    July 10, 2017 at 4:02 pm

    It all depends on what the Mets think of their chances going forward. They have to trade one of them if they think they’re out of it. Both Jay and Grandy will be FAs after the season but I Zthink Jay has more value at this point. I’d like them to hold onto Bruce and resign him because he balances the lineup better than Grandy. We’ll see!

  9. Eraff
    July 10, 2017 at 8:57 pm

    I’d love to think that they have a young player or two who might play 1b—Dom? Wilmer can play 1b and roam a bit of the IF, if he’s not traded.

    Harder to find is a 3bman…I think that’s where the cash will go, along with a Major League CF’er.

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