By Zach Gewelb
The New York Mets are bringing back a familiar face and a new one after agreeing to sign outfielder Jay Bruce and veteran first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.
The Mets and Bruce agreed to a three-year, $39 million contract while Gonzalez gets a one-year pact for the league minimum — he’ll also get $22.4 million from the Braves after Atlanta cut him earlier this offseason.
In Bruce and Gonzalez, the Mets get two veterans who bring leadership to the locker room at positions of need. With Michael Conforto’s status uncertain to begin the season, the Mets needed another outfielder, and Bruce has proven he can perform in New York. Gonzalez brings 12 years of experience to Queens to compete with young first baseman Dominic Smith.
Both moves have their positives, but that doesn’t mean they are the perfect acquisitions.
The Mets originally acquired Bruce in a 2016 trade deadline deal with the Cincinnati Reds and traded him to the Indians at the deadline last season. While he struggled to adapt to New York in 2016, Bruce performed well early last season before general manager Sandy Alderson shipped him to Cleveland, slugging 29 home runs in just 103 games. If anything, that proved that Bruce could handle New York.
But Bruce is not the perfect fit on the 2018 Mets. Yes, he brings some much-needed left-handed power to the lineup, especially with Conforto out. But when Conforto returns, Bruce’s presence means the 2017 All-Star will have to play center field, where he is a subpar defender. The Mets will likely start the season with Juan Lagares, a plus defender, in center field and Bruce in right. Those two, plus left fielder Yoenis Cespedes, provide a formidable defensive outfield. But replace Lagares with Conforto, and the defense really drops off.
One could argue that the Mets keep Lagares in center, move Conforto to right upon his return and place Bruce at first base. That seemed possible, but it became unlikely when the Mets added Gonzalez.
While — from a monetary standpoint — there is no downside to bringing in Gonzalez, he clutters the roster an awful lot. To start, he bats lefty, same as Smith. I have no issue with bringing in some competition for Smith, but why not import in a righty bat to potentially platoon with him?
Instead, the Mets brought in Gonzalez, whose play has been declining the last couple of years in Los Angeles with the Dodgers. Now, the Mets can keep Gonzalez on the roster and oust him when Conforto returns with little repercussion, but either way, it seems as if the Mets could do better with a more versatile player in that roster spot.
Alderson’s latest two moves don’t move the needle much — neither did his first signing of the offseason, Anthony Swarzak — but at least he is doing something. The hot stove has been nonexistent this offseason, with teams waiting for market prices to drop and players refusing to accept less than what they believe they’re worth. But Alderson has imported three potential contributors to the 2018 roster. How the moves play out remains to be seen.
Reach reporter Zach Gewelb by e-mail at zgewe