05 Aug Jason Bay is the Worst-Case Scenerio
Heading into the August 1st MLB Trade Deadline last Monday, the Mets found themselves in a situation that was eerily similar to the one they were in around the same time last year. New York has been looking up at the first place Washington Nationals for the majority of 2016 and began the second half of the regular season in dire need for some offense. Pitching has kept them in the playoff hunt so far, but with the team starting to fade in the National League Wild Card race, the front office had to make a move to add another bat into the mix.
After a few medical hiccups, the Mets were able to acquire outfielder Jay Bruce from the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for minor leaguers Dilson Herrera and Max Wotell. The fan base is obviously hoping that the Bruce deal will be like the sequel to last summer’s monumental Yoenis Cespedes blockbuster, but this new addition to the ballclub has been met with a lot of mixed reviews. MLB Network insider Jon Heyman seems to like the move for the price, Fangraphs’ Eno Sarris is a bit more lukewarm to the idea, and the Ringer’s Michael Baumann just can’t justify the Mets’ decision to add yet another corner outfielder.
Personally, I don’t know what to think. There is no doubt that the Mets had to do something to stay competitive. The injury riddled ballclub had already lost their captain, David Wright for the entire year, and it’s beginning to look like first baseman Lucas Duda and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera may suffer the same fate as well. Newly reacquired Jose Reyes is rehabbing an intercostal strain in Port St. Lucie and gold glove centerfielder Juan Lagares is also on the 15-day disabled list with a thumb issue. The offense had stayed afloat to this point by clinging to the Cespedes life raft, but now, even he’s gonna miss some time with a DL stint of his own.
After their play for Jonathan Lucroy fell through, Bruce was the best chance for the the Mets to generate some more offense; however, he does come with his fair share of question marks. Jay Bruce is a very legitimate power bat, and a virtual lock to go bridge somewhere between 25 and 35 times a year, but he does nothing to alleviate the team’s’ defensive woes and can’t play either position they want to fill; centerfield or third base. Although he leads the National league in the important, yet ever context driven RBI category, Bruce is a low contact guy being throw into the middle of a lineup already hitting around the Mendoza Line with runners in scoring position. He’s essentially a carbon copy of 2016 Mets’ team-identity, but was brought in to add something new into the fold.
As a Met fan holding on to my last shred of optimism I gained from last year’s improbable World Series run, I’ve been able to talk myself into this deal a bit. Bruce has a very affordable $13MM option for 2017, and being just 29 years-old, he is not likely to hit his decline in a Mets uniform. He provides the team with some sort of stability if Cespedes opts out of his deal at season’s end, and has even enjoyed a bit of a resurgence this year by slashing .265/.316/.559 at the time of the trade after a down 2014 and 2015 in Cincinnati. His batting average is back to where it was from 2011 to 2013, and he’s posted his lowest K-rate since ‘09.
The Mets also got Bruce for cheap, and were able to hang on to top prospects Domonic Smith and Amed Rosario in the process. They can’t possibly hit any worse with him, and after playing for an abysmal Reds team the last few years, Bruce may even elevate his game by playing in a pennant race. His sheer presence alone lengthens the banged-up lineup, and having him on the team gives manager Terry Collins the ability to go with the hot hand in the outfield when the team finally gets healthy (whether or not TC can figure out how to do that effectively in another issue entirely). I’ve gotten past the potential logistical pitfalls of the trade, but having rooted for the Mets my entire life, I do have a major concern regarding superstition.
Now, it may just be me, but after Bruce took an 0-9 in his first two games in New York I was struck with a PTSD episode of sort because of a former Met acquisition with the very same initials; Jason Bay (hold on for a second. Mets fans reading this need clean the vomit off their laptops). Bay signed with the Mets back in November of 2009, which eventually went down as one of the worst moves the team has ever made along with trading Nolan Ryan and that 1991 Bobby Bonilla contract that they are literally still paying. He signed with the team a year after reaching his career high in homers with the Red Sox the previous year, and immediately cratered offensively while battling injuries every step of the way.
Bay hit just six home runs in 401 plate appearances that first season in Flushing in 2010, and never eclipsed the league-average mark of a 100 OPS+ after that. He played 68 games with the Seattle Mariners in 2013 after his three horrid years with the Mets and was out of baseball at the age of 34.
Aside from having the same initials, Bruce and Bay bare a lot of other similarities as well. Both players are big, pasty outfielders with modest athleticism that were brought to New York to right a sinking ship. Bruce and Bay profile as high power, low contact guys, and came to Citi Field from very hitter friendly home ballparks. Bay’s power was completely sapped by Citi after the Canadian outfielder belted 45 homers in 200 games with the Red Sox; and although they’ve since moved the fences in, Bruce is coming over for the Great American Ballpark which is an absolute bandbox. The skillsets are very similar; Bay’s got a higher career walk-rate, and Bruce strikes out a bit less, but the two corner outfielders both have career slugging percentages around .470 and would strike out around 150 times in 600 plate appearances.
Bruce’s huge three-run tater against the Yankees Thursday night quelled some of my initial worry that we’re witnessing the second coming of Jason Bay, but the big lefty is gonna have to get going for Mets fans to be fully on board with the move. I think we’ve all made our peace with the departure of Dilson Herrera, but having seen the Jay Bruce floor in 2014 when he hit just .217 with an OPS of .654, any prolonged slump may trigger that Jason Bay PTSD.
I’m fairly confident that Jay Bruce won’t turn into Jason Bay; that’s just the worst-case scenario. Bruce has already got more career homers than Bay, the Mets got him at a younger age, and if things don’t work out, the team can move on this year or next year, no harm done. So Mets fans, if you’re watching a game and Bruce whiffs on an 0-2 curveball with runners on second and third, just remember to take deep belly breaths and believe that one organization can’t suffer from two Jason Bays in one decade.