By Brad Kallet
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Well, the Winter Meetings are a wrap. Baseball’s annual shop-fest has come and gone, and there was plenty of action.
The Mets didn’t make a move, but there really wasn’t much pressure on them to do so. After all, Yoenis Cespedes and Neil Walker, the Mets’ two top targets this winter, were locked up before the start of the week.
General manager Sandy Alderson spent his time in Maryland laying the groundwork for potential future deals, and gauging the market for what he might be able to net as he aspires to build a complete team.
The Mets have a surplus of outfielders right now with Cespedes, Curtis Granderson, Jay Bruce, Juan Lagares and Michael Conforto. You can even throw Brandon Nimmo into that mix, though it’s doubtful that he’ll get much playing time in 2017.
It’s obvious that Alderson would like to ship out Bruce, who was acquired from the Reds at the last season’s trade deadline but struggled during his two months in Queens. Trading the slugger, who is set to make $13 million in 2017, would likely trim the club’s payroll. That’s certainly part of the equation here, but Alderson, rightfully so, believes that he can get value for him. Bruce only hit .219 with the Mets, but over the full season batted .250 with 33 home runs and 99 RBIs. If he produces like that again next season, his contract will be a bargain.
Alderson, smartly, doesn’t want to trade Bruce just to trade him. He reportedly talked to numerous clubs about the slugger, and, according to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, the veteran executive wanted a high-end reliever — most likely shutdown right-hander Brad Brach — in return. That deal would make sense, as the Mets need to shore up their bullpen, especially considering Jeurys Familia could be staring down a suspension to start the season.
The Mets have also listened to offers for Granderson, but they’re reportedly reluctant to part with the popular outfielder. Granderson is understandably more enticing to clubs than Bruce is, and Alderson is right to hold him in higher regard. It’s doubtful that Granderson will go anywhere, as Mets manager Terry Collins told reporters this week that the three-time All-Star is expected to begin the season as the starting center fielder.
Speaking of the outfield, Collins also mentioned that Conforto, who the Mets are seemingly still very high on, will see plenty of time in right field, and will occasionally spell Granderson in center. Cespedes will play left, so where does that leave Bruce? It leaves him in no-man’s land, stuck in a crammed outfield with too many players and too few spots.
Though I see the logic in parting with Bruce, I’m a bit skeptical. Alderson is in a tough spot here. Luckily, with Cespedes and Walker in tow, much of the pressure has been alleviated. He’s essentially playing with house money from now until spring training.
I would only trade Bruce for one or two top relievers, and I mean top, not journeymen who had one or two solid years or up-and-comers who have promise. Bruce is an established big leaguer with a track record, and just 29 years old. He presumably has plenty left in the tank. He could still be an effective middle-of-the-order bat in this lineup.
I still have faith in Conforto and expect that he’ll rebound after a nightmarish campaign, but it’s far from certain that he’ll produce as much as a corner outfielder should. And there’s always a need for depth. You might remember that Cespedes and Lagares missed significant time last season, and Conforto was demoted due to poor play. Assuming one of New York’s key cogs gets hurt, I want Bruce, a three-time All-Star, stepping in for him, not someone who ran into a few fastballs in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.
And what about first base? I remain a Lucas Duda fan, but he missed 115 games in 2016, and when he was on the field he was hardly spectacular. What if he gets injured again, or underperforms? It sure would be nice to slot Bruce over there, and perhaps platoon him with Wilmer Flores, who mashes lefties.
Bruce has only played three games at first during his eight-year career — and he made two errors. So, no, he might not be a fit there. That would be an experiment for Alderson and Collins, and they’d decide whether he’s able to adequately handle the position.
Another scenario would be to keep Bruce in right field and put Conforto at first. The 23-year-old will reportedly take grounders there in spring training so, at the very least, he can develop some level of comfort on the right side of the infield. It can’t hurt.
Granderson, Bruce, Duda and Conforto don’t hit southpaws well, but the Mets aren’t as lefty-heavy as some perceive them to be. Travis d’Arnaud, Flores, David Wright, Cespedes and Lagares hit right-handed, and Jose Reyes, Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker are switch-hitters.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Nationals’ pursuits at the Winter Meetings. General manager Mike Rizzo was awfully aggressive, but he mostly came up short. Rizzo reportedly targeted Andrew McCutchen and Chris Sale, but landed neither. Sale would have given the Nationals the most dominant starting pitching in baseball, and made them the clear favorites in the NL East. Washington did land Adam Eaton, a very good player, but he’s no superstar. To get him, Washington surrendered Lucas Giolito, arguably the top pitching prospect in baseball, and Reynaldo Lopez, another heralded young arm.
All in all, the Winter Meetings could have gone far better for the Nationals, and, thus, far worse for the Mets.
Expect a lull in offseason activity from now through the New Year. The hot stove should then heat up again, and we should see the rest of the dominoes fall into place.
Brad Kallet is the managing editor of TENNIS.com, and a frequent contributor to WFAN.com. Follow him on Twitter @brad_kallet