In 2017, Jay Bruce enjoyed his best season since 2013 by both traditional (36 HR, 101 RBI) and advanced (2.6 fWAR) metrics. Bruce did most of this work for the Mets before being traded to Cleveland for the Indians’ playoff run. Saying goodbye to Bruce in August 2017 seemed to make a lot of sense for the Mets—not only at the time for a team out of contention, but also with an eye to the future, with a seeming logjam at the corner outfield spots.
So it was a bit of a surprise when the Mets jumped back on the Bruce train relatively early in a slow-developing free agent market last offseason. The Mets and Bruce agreed to a three-year, $39 million dollar contract in January 2018 hailed by some as—if not exactly the ideal positional fit—a reasonable signing. One that quickly seemed less reasonable as the depressed offseason free agent market more clearly materialized. And now looks to be a complete albatross after Bruce’s injury-plagued 2018, along with the concurrent development of younger, cheaper options at Bruce’s positional options.
Bruce struggled mightily out of the gate in 2018, batting .212 with a .613 OPS (for a wRC+ of 71) through June 17. After that game in Arizona, Bruce was mercifully put on the disabled list—nominally for a right hip injury, though he had clearly struggled through hip, back and foot issues throughout the season to that point.
Bruce would miss over two months, returning on to the team on August 24. In 125 plate appearances after the injury, Bruce hit closer to his career norms, launching six home runs and slugging .467, putting up a wRC+ of 123. In the 29 games he spent in the field after his return, he spent 18 at first base—where he had made only three appearances prior to his injury—and 11 in the outfield. The defensibly-challenged Bruce acquitted himself more adequately than one would think at first in the small sample size (0.4 UZR over 180.1 innings).
With Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto established as everyday outfielders and Peter Alonso seemingly offering at minimum similar power with more upside to dream on, there would seem to be even less place for Jay Bruce on the 2019 roster than at his signing last year. But that contract runs for two more years, and will likely dictate playing time more than fans might like. Bruce will need to stay healthy and put up numbers more in line with his 2017 season to truly earn that time.