By Brad Kallet
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Just as he was a year ago, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson was quite active on Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline.
He added some much-needed punch to the lineup by acquiring three-time All-Star Jay Bruce from the Reds for 22-year-old second baseman Dilson Herrera and 19-year-old minor league pitcher Max Wotell.
Bruce will slot in nicely behind Yoenis Cespedes in the cleanup spot, providing the Cuban slugger some much-needed protection. Just 29, the veteran slugger was having a monster offensive season in Cincinnati, hitting .265 with 25 home runs, 22 doubles and a National League-leading 80 RBIs in 97 games.
Bruce has also performed well in the clutch, batting .360 with runners in scoring position. He’s hitting lefties (.250) nearly as well as he’s hitting righties (.271).
Alderson did well not to give up too much in this trade. I would have preferred to see Brandon Nimmo — projected by many scouts to be nothing more than a fourth outfielder — go as opposed to Herrera, but I’m not as high on the young infielder as others.
Herrera may very well end up being a good ballplayer at the major league level, but in his brief time with the club hardly impressed — .215 (32-for-149), six homers, 17 RBIs, a .308 OBP and five errors in 49 games. Wotell, a third-round pick in last year’s draft, is far away from seeing a big league field.
The problem with Bruce, of course, is his limited ability defensively. He’ll play right field, a hobbled Cespedes will play left field and Michael Conforto and Curtis Granderson will man center field. Manager Terry Collins is hoping that Cespedes can return to center once his right quadriceps improves.
It’s not a very good defensive outfield, and that’s being kind, but the Mets need runs. And although this isn’t a perfect fit, Bruce’s power and run-production more than make up for his subpar defense.
Alderson was also thinking about next season when he made this move. Bruce has a $13 million team option for 2017 in his contract, and the Mets will almost certainly pick it up.
If Cespedes opts out of his three-year contract and signs elsewhere in the offseason — which he could very well do — Bruce will be his replacement. Though he’s nowhere near as talented as Cespedes, Bruce does provide a safety net in the event that Cespedes departs. And if Cespedes stays, the Mets will have a loaded outfield consisting of Bruce, Cespedes, Granderson, Conforto, Juan Lagares and Nimmo.
And before you ask where everyone is going to play, I direct you to review Exhibit A: this season. You can never have too many quality players. Someone will get hurt, someone will struggle, and someone will provide quality production off the bench. The more, the better.
If Cespedes, who missed his second straight game on Monday, returns to the field and hits in front of Bruce, this team has a chance to earn the second wild-card berth in the NL. It would also help if Jose Reyes, Lucas Duda and Zack Wheeler return to action sooner rather than later. I am still betting against it, though. This team is just too beat up. The offense, even with Bruce, is not good enough, and the starting rotation isn’t nearly what we thought it would be. The season is far from over, but I’m not counting on a second consecutive postseason appearance.
If Alderson had managed to add Jonathan Lucroy in addition to Bruce, I’d be singing a different tune. But Bruce alone isn’t enough to transform a lineup. He’s simply not Cespedes.
If Cespedes hits the disabled list, or continues to play intermittently and at 50 or 60 percent, forget it. The Mets won’t hang around much longer. Cespedes is far and away their most impactful hitter, and without him, they’re more or less a .500 club.
Trading for Bruce wasn’t the only thing Alderson did on Monday. In an especially odd turn of events– you just can’t make this stuff up — the GM traded left-handed reliever Antonio Bastardo to Pittsburgh for old friend Jon Niese. Niese, who pitched for the Mets from 2008-15, was dealt in the offseason for second baseman Neil Walker.
Niese is by no means a great pitcher — he had a 4.91 ERA in 110 innings for the Pirates — but he’s a lefty, is probably an upgrade over Logan Verrett and is comfortable in this market and with this franchise.
Bastardo, who signed a two-year, $12 million deal with the Mets in January, was an unmitigated disaster in Queens. He pitched to a 4.74 ERA over 43 2/3 innings and surrendered eight home runs, including five to lefties. It was time for him to go.
Brad Kallet is the managing editor of TENNIS.com and a frequent contributor to WFAN.com. Follow him on Twitter @brad_kallet