Revisiting the Jay Bruce deal in this continuing odd market

When the Mets signed Jay Bruce this offseason to a 3/$39 deal, the reaction was very positive. Everyone was glad to see the Mets sign a name free agent and most thought the terms were either fair or a win for the club. Certainly, I was aligned with the majority. But given how the rest of the winter has played out, including the continuation of the slow market, along with the Mets’ willingness to continue to participate in free agency, it seems fair to wonder – If given a chance to go back in time, would the Mets still re-sign Bruce at those terms?

Let’s state for the record that this in in no way, shape or form a knock on Bruce. He was extremely productive in his time with the club last year, has been universally praised for being a good teammate and a positive presence in the locker room and if he stays healthy he’s likely to outperform his contract. In an ordinary year, this would be an outstanding signing.

But this is no ordinary year.

If the Mets passed on Bruce, but were still willing the use his salary elsewhere, there are several different ways they could have proceeded this offseason. They could have taken his $13 million and combined it with the $8 million given to Jason Vargas and shopped in the high end of the starting pitching market. Or they could have kept Vargas and signed another high-end reliever to further bolster the bullpen. Many would say they could have gone after Lorenzo Cain, even if the 2017 Dexter Fowler experience would cause others to be wary. Or perhaps they could have split it for two players, getting a 1B and OF for the same total money. Maybe that $13 million would get them Logan Morrison and Carlos Gomez, for instance.

Or they could have used the funds to explore options in the trade market. Perhaps in lieu of prospects, the Mets could have given cash to the budget-conscious Marlins for J.T. Realmuto. Or perhaps that money would have made a Jason Kipnis deal more palatable.

Bruce gives the team lefty power, which they certainly need with the loss of Curtis Granderson, Lucas Duda and Neil Walker from last year’s Opening Day roster, as well as the loss of Michael Conforto for some undetermined amount of time in 2018. But he’s not an ideal fit defensively, especially if he’s only playing 1B in a pinch. Which is why this question about having a do-over is relevant.

Bruce is a very nice value signing. But if nearly everyone available is a value signing, does overall fit take on more importance than it typically does?

There’s more to fit than just where the player can be positioned defensively. It seems clear the Mets value the proven ability to perform in New York. And we’ve already mentioned clubhouse presence and lineup balance. Perhaps all of those more than make up for the corner OF issue.

But bringing on Bruce makes playing time for both Juan Lagares and Brandon Nimmo problematic once Conforto returns. Maybe that’s not an issue. Or maybe it means never getting the benefits of Nimmo’s high OBP or to test to see if Lagares’ offseason work to overhaul his offensive game pays dividends.

When you’re banking so much on injured pitchers to return to form, perhaps the last thing you can do is gamble on Nimmo’s small sample or Lagares’ offseason workouts. The relative safety of Bruce’s offense could be worth more to a team with big question marks elsewhere. Yet it seems clear the Mets do see value in retaining both players. They refused to deal Nimmo for Josh Harrison and a rumored Lagares-Joe Panik deal – which would have saved them money both now and in the future – never seemed to have much traction.

Earlier in the offseason, I suggested that the Mets not setting a firm payroll was not necessarily a negative because it gave them flexibility they otherwise wouldn’t have. If at the end of the World Series, the Mets had set a firm payroll, no one would have imagined it being at the current $150 million plus that it is. It appears that the Mets saw an opportunity and acted.

Perhaps the fit in all of the Mets’ offseason moves is that it allows them the flexibility to move on from them if the pitching goes south again. If they went in on Cain or one of the top-level pitchers and they had five-year (or more) deals, it would be tough to flip them at the deadline if half the team was on the DL once again. But all four of the guys that they did sign should be desirable trade targets if they’re healthy and producing in July while the rest of the squad is disabled.

From the Mets’ point of view, Bruce was both a value signing and good fit. There’s a moveable salary, lefty power and the ability to play in NY, among other things. They’ve talked about his clubhouse presence quite a bit. Perhaps that’s nothing more than a hard sell to fans who always talk about intangibles. But even if they value it just as much as their posture indicates, it’s yet another reason for them to be happy with the deal they made five weeks ago.

12 comments for “Revisiting the Jay Bruce deal in this continuing odd market

  1. b
    February 18, 2018 at 1:21 pm

    not being realistic

  2. Eraff
    February 18, 2018 at 1:56 pm

    The best Rear View Miorrors will begin to be available in about 4 weeks

  3. TexasGusCC
    February 18, 2018 at 2:20 pm

    There are always variables out of the public eye that influence contracts and looking at the Hosmer deal that was announced last night, Bruce looks like a bargain. At the time of the Bruce signing, the Mets needed a 1B/OF type who had leadership skills and was productive. I don’t know if one good year of LoMo is enough to hang your hat on him and the options really were few.

    Also, Lorenzo Cain said that when negotiations started with the Brewers and he saw they were serious, he ceased negotiating with other teams. With regard to Panik, I just don’t see why they would make that deal. Even if Lagares hits .260, we know he’s a 3+ WAR player on a team that lacks outfield options but has many 2B options similar or not too much worse than Panik. That made no sense.

    The #1 regret of the top ten money managers is they sold too soon, and could have had more profits. But, these guys aren’t the top ten by accident, yet have regrets because no one can completely forecast a market. The biggest rear view mirror has to be taking Cabrera’s option. In November, it seemed like Frazier and Moustakas would be out of reach for our lovable bargain hunters, and Cabrera’s appeal wasn’t his versatility but rather his ability to play 3B well, as the Mets didn’t have a credible second option there. After signing Frazier, Cabrera actually stands in the way of getting a similar lead off option like Nunez who just went to Boston for $4-5MM per year for two years, depending on incentives, or trading for Harrison.

  4. Eraff
    February 18, 2018 at 3:41 pm

    Cabs is one year—no sacrifice of assets via trade. He was an obvious re-sign. Keep him at 125-140 games and he’ll be productive.

  5. TJ
    February 18, 2018 at 4:32 pm

    I agree with Brian in that Bruce is a fine player. I was skeptical when they acquired him, but watching him over the course of about 162 games, I found him to be better than his numbers would imply.

    At 3/$39 million, the Mets certainly cannot be knocked. He may or may not provide enough WAR to cover that salary over the next three seasons, but his good qualities result in very little downside.

    The concerns I have with the signing were more about Conforto. Specifically, on two fronts, the first being that confidence that he will ever heal 100%, and the second being his ability to play CF day in and day out. While Bruce also provides some 1B insurance, I would be surprised if he could provide at least league average defense there daily.

    So, looking back, I view Bruce as part of the entire offseason, and as part of that equation, I am very happy with this signing. The positives far outweigh the negatives, and while there were perhaps some better alternatives (like Cain), I am as happy that the Mets stayed away from bigger money deals as I am that they added all these offseason pieces. Avoiding Moustakas, Hosmer, Yu, Arietta, and to a lesser degree Cain, Lynn, and Cobb, provides excellent flexibility going forward, and maintains two high draft picks in 2018. This allows them a decent underdog shot at the NL east in 2018, as well as an excellent shot in 2019 & 2020 at a minimum. Hopefully, Bruce has some peak seasons in him during that span.

  6. MattyMets
    February 18, 2018 at 7:17 pm

    I love Lorenzo Cain and think he would have been a great fit but the contract he got from Milwaukee was absolute bananas.

    The Mets absolutely had to get an OF, preferably one who could play first if needed, bat fifth in the lineup, handle the NY spotlight and not be in demand of a monster contract. Bruce checked every box and was a no brainer signing. The other signings you can second guess. Did it make sense to bring back Cabrera when the market was flooded with available second basemen? Is Gonzalez worth the gamble? Is Swarzak a better option than Reed who only got slightly more or Watson and others who got less? Was Frazier the right move when the team needed a leadoff hitter? Vargas over other options?

  7. Meticated
    February 18, 2018 at 7:19 pm

    Youz guys are geniuses!

  8. Mike Walczak
    February 18, 2018 at 7:21 pm

    They also could what a lot of teams are doing, not signing anyone and saving the money for the prize free agents next year.

  9. Pete In Iowa
    February 20, 2018 at 12:41 pm

    I see no impact whatsoever on playing time for Lagares and Nimmo who were both destined to be 4th and 5th outfielders in 2018. The former has proven himself to be nothing more than a back up and the latter needs more seasoning and a step forward to be a starter. They will both get plenty of playing time this year as Conforto is already out for a month and you know Cespedes will have at least one stint on the DL.
    I have no problem with Conforto as the everyday CF. He was that last year and acquitted himself just fine in that spot. He also proved to be a very good leadoff hitter as well.
    I see no downside to the Bruce signing. A real pro and a quality player at a good price. What’s not to like?

    • February 21, 2018 at 10:18 am

      In isolation, the Bruce move is fine.

      The question is when looked at in the overall scheme of the offseason, both with the Mets and the market, is it the best use of resources? It cuts into the team’s chances to see if Nimmo’s OBP production is real. It cuts into the team’s chances to see if Lagares’ offseason work with JD Martinez’ coaches can unlock power. Also, allocating $13 million to Bruce is money that (possibly) could have been spent better elsewhere.

      It’s a forest/trees thing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: