The free agent market is still slow to develop, but some movement is still better than none.
The New York Mets have come to terms on a three-year, $39 million deal with free agent outfielder Jay Bruce, who gives them a much-needed run-producer in the lineup.
Bruce is about as consistent a power hitter as there is. In 10 MLB seasons, he’s hit 20 or more homers in nine of them — with at least 30 homers and 97 RBI in five different seasons.
Coming back to pretty much the same Mets team he played with for parts of 2016 and 2017, those numbers a plausible expectation for 2018, I have Bruce ranked 33rd among fantasy outfielders. (Even if he’s only going to hit around .250.)
But his return to Queens only seems to renew the same problem the Mets had last spring with too many outfielders for too few spots.
The Conforto question
A three-time All-Star, Bruce has played his entire career in right field. Yoenis Cespedes is a fixture in left field. Defensive whiz Juan Lagares (on Brandon Nimmo) will be the starter in center field with Michael Conforto coming off shoulder surgery and questionable for opening day.
But what happens when Conforto is healthy? Do the Mets want him playing everyday in center field? If they platoon him with Lagares, will he ever learn to hit left-handed pitchers?
Conforto made some strides last season after posting a .104 average (and .125 slugging percentage) in 48 at-bats against southpaws in 2016. He raised his OPS from .295 to .729 and hit six homers in 99 at-bats against them.
It’s possible Conforto gives Cespedes an occasional break in left field, but as perhaps the team’s best young hitter he should be playing nearly every day — as long as he’s healthy.
That’s why the option of playing Bruce at first base could be explored a little deeper than it was last season, when he appeared in 12 games there. Yes, 22-year-old Dominic Smith is the incumbent, but he exactly didn’t light the world on fire in his two-month debut (.198/.262/.395 in 183 plate appearances). And don’t forget utilityman Wilmer Flores hits lefties very well.
The Mets made a solid addition and Bruce should provide fantasy owners with some relatively inexpensive power. Additional eligibility at first base would be a bonus. But if he doesn’t see much time in the infield, the signing could have a detrimental effect on the player the Mets should be building around for the future.