By Ernie Palladino
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In a Mets season that can only be politely described as ironic, Jay Bruce stands as one of its biggest ironies.
Once thought of as $13 million garbage, Bruce would come in handy right now, if only to avoid a public address announcer repeating Tuesday night’s pre-game spiel at Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark:
“Batting first and playing left field, Number 7, Jose Reyes.”
Not that the power-hitting Bruce would ever be a leadoff candidate, with or without the pending free agent Reyes on the roster. And Bruce plays right field, anyway.
But considering the shape of the Mets’ roster right now, it was only a small curiosity that Terry Collins plopped the infielder Reyes in left field for his first-ever start there.
The situation has grown just that bad now that Curtis Granderson wears Dodger blue and Michael Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes have said farewell to this injury-wrecked season with a dislocated shoulder and pulled hamstring, respectively.
What’s left is an intimate gathering of Brandon Nimmo, Juan Lagares, and Travis Taijeron.
That makes one long for Bruce. Ironic, right? What‘s more, the whole scenario has turned Bruce into a potential free agent target come the winter. And why not? Since the Mets traded him to Cleveland 18 games ago for the remaining $4.2 million on his contract and a bag of balls named Ryder Ryan, Bruce has torn it up for the defending AL champs.
Before Tuesday’s rains postponed the second game of his New York-area homecoming, an 0-for-3, one-walk effort in Monday’s win over the Yankees had lowered Bruce’s batting average since the trade to .297. And the four homers and 13 RBIs he brought into that 6-2 win didn’t look shabby, either.
It all kind of makes one wonder if Mets general manager Sandy Alderson did the right thing in that Aug. 9 trade/sell-off. It also brings up the question of whether Bruce might be worth bringing back once he lands on the open market.
It’s a reasonable proposition. He did quite well in Flushing this year, amassing 29 homers and 75 RBIs. Both numbers led the squad, though Conforto probably would have overtaken him had his mighty swing last Thursday not destroyed the posterior capsule of his left shoulder. Now, he faces possible surgery that could require a whole year of rehab, with no guarantee that he’ll return with the same power with which he left.
Add to that the Cespedes situation. Friday’s pull, which ended his season, was just the latest in a line of muscle troubles that limited him to 81 games and 17 homers. Despite the $87 million owed him over the last three years of his contract, there’s also no guarantee Cespedes will reprise his power plant performance of the 2015 World Series run.
The fact that Bruce hits with power and a respectable enough average makes him a valuable commodity now. Not that there won’t be others out there, like KC’s Mike Moustakis. But Bruce has shown he can thrive in New York. The fact that he did after failing miserably following his 2016 trade here from Cincinnati makes his 2017 all the more impressive.
And all the more ironic. Alderson burned up the phone lines looking to unload Bruce last offseason and couldn’t get anything for him. When the Indians finally got interested after this year’s trade deadline, the GM went for money.
Trash first, and then bait for currency. Bottom of the barrel stuff.
Now, with Granderson gone and big question marks placed next to Conforto and Cespedes, the Mets need power, not to mention someone capable of playing a major league outfield position.
Bruce has all of that. He said this week he’d be willing to come back here, presumably for the right price. And guess what? It wouldn’t be the first time a local team traded a player and then signed him the next free agent period.
Aroldis Chapman, anyone?
There’s no guarantee Alderson gets Bruce back. He might not even try.
But after this latest emergency situation, the veteran executive could do far worse in his rebuild than re-signing someone he tried so hard to unload before the season even started.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino