The Mets are now intent on retaining Jay Bruce as their Opening Day right fielder, according to Ken Davidoff of the New York Post.
After an offseason full of rumors involving trading Bruce, it appears he’s here to stay—for now. The $13 million lefty is entering the final year of his contract, following a 50-game stint in New York where he batted a disappointing .219 with eight homers.
The problem with Bruce staying in New York does not lay within his numbers—which are bound to increase with a larger sample size. It’s the glut of outfielders—particularly lefties.
Traded for Dilson Herrera and Max Wotell at last year’s trade deadline, the intention for bringing Bruce aboard was twofold. It was expected that he would supply a power surge to an injury-riddled lineup. While that plan didn’t go as expected, the Mets still exercised his $13 million 2017 option to provide insurance for the departure of Yoenis Cespedes. After re-signing Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year contract, the Mets outfield now consists of Cespedes, Bruce, Curtis Granderson, Michael Conforto, Juan Lagares, and Brandon Nimmo—all of whom the front office would like to get significant playing time.
Entering his age-35 season and the final year of his contract, Granderson will make $15 million as the projected starting center fielder. Across 633 plate appearances last year, Granderson hit a respectable .237 while smacking 30 home runs. While the major concern is his aging defense in center field, Granderson showed all signs of mediocrity up the middle in 2016 across 251 innings, accumulating one Defensive Run Saved (DRS)—his highest in center since 2010. Granderson played to a 2.6 WAR last year, a steep drop in light of his 5.1 2015 campaign—perhaps due to more time in center field.
In a bold comparison to Granderson, Juan Lagares accumulated two DRS—a low mark compared to the 26 he put up in 2013 and 2014. This paved the way to a three and four-win player he became, respectively. The Mets rewarded him with a four-year, $23 million contract extension before the 2016 season. Lagares—a current fourth outfielder—has the potential to earn $9.5 million in 2020 should the Mets exercise his club option, which seems like an awful lot for a bench player.
Michael Conforto, the #10 overall pick in the 2014 draft, burst onto the scene in 2015, hitting nine home runs in just 194 plate appearances. However, his numbers took a severe dip as his expectations increased ahead of the 2016 campaign. His strikeout percentage increased to nearly 26%—the highest he’s had in his professional career. His defensive metrics dropped along with his offense, lowering his 2016 DRS to 1 in comparison to 9 the year before—making him probably not an ideal candidate for an everyday center fielder.
Lastly, the #13 overall pick in the 2011 draft, Brandon Nimmo, got his first taste of the majors last year. Nimmo batted a respectable .274/.338/.329 across 80 plate appearances, and has been considered a center fielder for the vast majority of his professional career.
While there is certainly a logjam of outfielders for the upcoming season, with injury-prone players like Cespedes and Granderson, I don’t doubt that players like Lagares and Nimmo will be needed. And, with looming free agent departures in Granderson and Bruce, the outfield will appropriately thin out for the 2018 season.
Right now, whether you like it or not, Bruce is the right fielder. Granderson is bound to be in center and will probably be replaced with Lagares during the late innings. With Cespedes rounding things out in left,
Conforto will work his way into the lineup someway and somehow. Nimmo, despite a good showing in 2016, will almost certainly start the 2017 campaign in Triple-A Las Vegas.