Tuesday, 2 August 2016
Mets Acquire Jay Bruce and Jon Niese in Trades at Deadline
The Cincinnati Reds did not have a game on Monday, so Jay Bruce was home with his wife, Hannah, and their 3-month-old son, Carter. Bruce had been on the trading block since last year, so he knew a change was likely.
Thirty minutes before Monday afternoon’s nonwaiver trading deadline, the Reds called to inform him he was being traded to the Mets.
“I thought I was going to be a Met last year,” Bruce said later in a telephone interview as he packed his belongings. “It’s all kind of come full circle. I’m super, super excited to get there.”
The Mets acquired Bruce, 29, an All-Star right fielder this season, to join a roster with a surplus of corner outfielders and no true everyday center fielder. Still, Bruce’s powerful bat could provide needed thump to an injury-plagued lineup that has been one of the worst in baseball.
“It’s not an absolute perfect fit for us,” Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson said. “You start with the need for offense and work from there.”
Also on Monday, in a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Mets reacquired the left-handed pitcher Jon Niese for the left-handed pitcher Antonio Bastardo, the teams announced. Niese, who played his first eight major league seasons for the Mets, was 8-6 with a 4.91 E.R.A. for the Pirates this season; Bastardo, who played for Pittsburgh last season, had a 4.74 E.R.A. in 41 relief appearances for the Mets.
Niese was expected to pitch out of the bullpen at first, but he also offers insurance against injuries in the Mets’ rotation.
“The job he did last year in the postseason, I’ll never forget,” Mets Manager Terry Collins said of Niese.
For Bruce, the Mets sent the Reds the infield prospect Dilson Herrera and the minor league left-hander Max Wotell. Alderson said he felt comfortable trading Herrera, once viewed by the Mets as a potential future second baseman, because of the presence of Jose Reyes next season as well as the infield prospect Gavin Cecchini.
Outfielder Brandon Nimmo was originally part of the Reds’ return, a person familiar with the situation said, but the deal changed because of medical concerns over a player. Alderson declined to elaborate on the concerns.
“This deal went through several iterations,” Alderson said.
Bruce became the first player in major league history to be traded during a season in which he led his league in R.B.I., according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The Mets and the Reds had discussed a trade for Bruce last season, before the Reds backed out and the Mets acquired Yoenis Cespedes, whose hitting helped fuel the Mets’ playoff run.
Bruce was expected to hit behind Cespedes, who was out of Monday’s lineup.
“His presence in the middle of the lineup will change things,” Alderson said of Bruce. “It wasn’t clear to me how much longer Cespedes was going to get pitches to hit as long as we had the rest of the lineup around him as it was.”
Bruce, who has a strong throwing arm, may slot into right field for the Mets and displace Curtis Granderson. Collins listed Granderson and Michael Conforto, a novice in center field, as likely options for center. Cespedes, who played center field until his quadriceps injury, will remain in left field until his leg improves.
“I’m not coming in to take anyone’s position,” Bruce said. “I’m coming in to contribute. I’ll play wherever they want me to play.”
Rebounding from two rough seasons, Bruce produced at a career-high rate this season for the Reds. In 97 games, he hit .265 with an .875 on-base plus slugging percentage, 25 home runs and 80 R.B.I.
Before his struggles, Bruce was a two-time All-Star and a Silver Slugger, averaging 27 home runs and 81 R.B.I. per season from 2008 to 2013. He has a career .319 on-base percentage but a powerful left-handed swing.
The Mets “haven’t performed as well as anyone would have liked to at this point,” said Bruce, who was impressed with the team’s pitching and postseason run last season. “They’ve had some injuries. That’s hurt them. I’m looking to come in there and be myself. They obviously know me as a player and know what I’m capable of.”
The Mets’ offense has been sluggish. Their .237 average entering Monday was last in baseball, and their .206 average with runners in scoring position had them on track for one of the worst marks in history.
Bruce has been a career .248 hitter with runners in scoring position but has improved to .360 this season. Alderson said Bruce’s performance in those situations was not a major factor in the deal; the Mets simply wanted his bat.
“Somebody like Jay Bruce can be a catalyst for more productive performance out of the other players that we have, especially hitting in the middle of our order,” Alderson said.
Bruce, who has a $12.5 million salary this season, has a $13 million team option for 2017. Alderson said the Bruce acquisition was independent of the status of Cespedes, who has been dealing with a balky right quadriceps for weeks and has not played since he left Saturday’s game early.
Cespedes could also be gone after this season. He has had a career year and could exercise the opt-out in his three-year, $75 million deal, which would make him a top player in the weak 2017 free-agent market. Bruce, who was expected to join the Mets on Tuesday, could lessen such a blow.
“We’re happy that we have him for this season,” Alderson said of Bruce. “We’re happy that we have him for next season.”
When he spoke by phone on Monday, Bruce was juggling a lot.
“We’re trying to figure out parenting right now, too, so this is an exciting time,” he said. “I’m about to head to the field, pack my stuff up and say my goodbyes and head up there as quickly as I can.”