Though by all accounts he has done nothing but go about his business as a professional, outfielder Jay Bruce has had an eventful tenure with the Mets since arriving last summer via trade. While the club picked up his option last fall, it reportedly dangled him in trade talks once Yoenis Cespedes returned in free agency.
Among the teams that inquired about Bruce, it was the rebuilding Phillies who came closest to acquiring him over the recent offseason, Marc Carig of Newsday reports. It’s not known what got in the way of a deal, though perhaps New York wanted some kind of prospect return or Philadelphia wasn’t willing to take on his entire $13MM salary.
The pursuit of Bruce, who’ll be a free agent at year’s end, certainly fits within the Phillies’ recent operating philosophy of adding short-term veteran pieces to boost the club in the near term (and provide possible trade chips) without clogging up future balance sheets. The Phils ended up adding two such outfielders, Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders. Presumably, the club wouldn’t have signed the latter, who was not added until mid-January, had it managed to acquire Bruce.
Other organizations that at least expressed interest, Carig notes, were the Giants and Orioles. But clearly neither of those clubs was willing to push the envelope to add Bruce, who struggled to a .219/.294/.391 slash line over his 187 plate appearances with the Mets in 2016. In the end, the Mets held onto the slugger.
As it turns out, the lack of sufficient interest may have worked to the Mets’ advantage. Though the presence of Bruce on the roster along with Curtis Granderson and Michael Conforto has continued to create something of a logjam, the 30-year-old Bruce is more than making up for that with a highly productive start to the year. Through 62 plate appearances, he’s hitting a robust .309/.387/.673 with six long balls.
It’ll be interesting to see how things play out over the course of the season. Bruce is a notoriously streaky hitter, though the Mets will be glad to ride things out for the time being. Conforto is clamoring for more playing time with a great start in limited action. And Granderson is scuffling quite a bit early, though of the three he’s the choice to line up in center field (where he could begin to cede time to Juan Lagares). Tough choices could be required if other roster needs arise, or if the team determines that Conforto needs to play more regularly, though it remains plausible to imagine all three players sticking with the Mets for the full season. And if Bruce is able to maintain anything like his current production, it’ll be interesting to see whether the organization considers a qualifying offer after the season.