In the bigger of their two moves at the trade deadline, the Mets acquired outfielder Jay Bruce from the Reds and gave up second baseman Dilson Herrera and left-handed pitchers Max Wotell to get him. It wasn’t the biggest minor league haul the Mets could have given up, but it was significant.
The 29-year-old Bruce was taken by the Reds with the 12th overall pick in the 2005 amateur draft. He made it to the big leagues in 2008 and hit 21 home runs in 452 plate appearances that year for the Reds and hit 22 more the following year, though his overall line—.240/.309/.460—was just about league average, adjusting for ballpark.
From there, his career took off. A left-handed hitter, Bruce hit .262/.337/.489 with 121 home runs and a 119 wRC+ from the 2010 through 2013 seasons. That home run total was tied for the seventh-highest total over that span at an average of 30.25 home runs per season. And then things took a turn for the worse at the plate.
In 2014, his age-27 season, Bruce had the worst year of his career at the plate. He hit just .217/.281/.373 with a 78 wRC+ as he recovered from knee surgery. He still hit 18 home runs in 545 plate appearances, but the overall production wasn’t good. He was better—but still not anywhere near his normal self—last year, as he hit .226/.294/.434 with 26 home runs and a 91 wRC+.
Now in his age-29 season, Bruce has bounced back from those down years very nicely this season. He’s hit .265/.316/.559, a line good for a 125 wRC+, and has already hit 25 home runs. He’s tied for ninth with three other hitters—Josh Donaldson, David Oritz, and his former Reds teammate Adam Duvall—in home runs this year.
For his career, Bruce has fared better against right-handed pitching, as most left-handed hitters do, with a 115 wRC+ against them. He hasn’t been useless against lefties, though, as he has a 91 wRC+ and a .425 slugging percentage against same-handed pitchers. When he’s been at his best, he’s hit right-handed pitchers very well and managed league-average-ish numbers against lefties.
There’s no question Bruce’s bat has been an asset, though the two-year stretch of struggles leading into this season is at least cause for some concern. But the bigger concern about his game is his defense, which hasn’t rated well generally by Defensive Runs Saved and UZR/150. Partial-season samples of those metrics should be taken very lightly, but the former has him at -13 this year and the latter at -16. Those numbers would be by far the worst of his career, as he rated at -6 and +5 in DRS and -7.0 and -3.8 UZR/150 in the previous two seasons. His last good defensive year by those metrics came in 2013, when he finished the year at +16 and +10.1, respectively.
There’s no question that Bruce is a corner outfielder. He played just 285 innings in center field all the way back in 2008 and recorded one-third of an inning there this year, presumably because of strange circumstances. Aside from that brief freak appearance in center, he hasn’t played anywhere but right field since 2008, as he logged 41 innings in left field and 26 innings at first base that year.
Looking ahead, Bruce is under control through the 2017 season. He’s earning $12.5 million this year, and the Mets have a team option on him for next season at $13 million. That’s something they’ll obviously pick up, as they’d at least be able to trade him or one of their other corner outfielders if all of them—including Yoenis Cespedes—return. Bruce gives them some insurance if Cespedes needs time on the disabled list for his quad this year, though neither he nor Granderson have spent much time in left field, or if Cespedes chooses to opt out and ends up signing elsewhere.