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The Mets are reportedly signing OF/1B Jay Bruce to a three-year deal worth $39 million, and have told him to expect to get some time at first base. The deal will likely have serious ramifications (short and long-term) for at least two current players -- and maybe more...
What happens to Juan Lagares?
The Mets have been open to trading Lagares, who is owed $6.5 million this coming season and $9 million in 2019. And the acquisition of Bruce gives them a full outfield of Yoenis Cespedes, Michael Conforto (when he returns), and Bruce from left to right.
That would seemingly leave Lagares as a very expensive bench player once Conforto returns from his shoulder injury. Conforto hasn't been ruled out for Opening Day, but GM Sandy Alderson said last month that he didn't expect Conforto to be ready. If there is more concern than the Mets are letting on regarding Conforto -- especially his ability to go full-bore when he returns -- keeping Lagares for now makes sense.
Or, they could trade Lagares before the season and have Brandon Nimmo as insurance as they wait for Conforto to be fully healthy. Either way, signing Bruce for the next three seasons locks down right field for the most part, meaning...
As presently constituted, Michael Conforto is the long-term center fielder
With Bruce and Cespedes on board through 2020 (and factoring in Cespedes' preference to play left field), Conforto is currently projected to be the Mets' center fielder for the next three seasons.
Conforto was worth -4 DRS (defensive runs saved) in 328.2 innings in center in 2017, according to FanGraphs, while being worth -2 DRS overall across all three outfield positions in 818.2 innings. In a small sample of 39 innings in center field in 2016, Conforto was worth 1 DRS. During his rookie season in 2015, he was worth 9 DRS in left field in 389.2 innings.
While it's not the best situation, Conforto has shown that he'll likely be able to handle center field adequately. And his defense, which was said to be a concern around the time he was drafted, has been a plus overall.
However, a wrench could be thrown into all of this because of...
The uncertainty surrounding Dominic Smith
The Mets had been seeking a corner outfielder who could also play first base, and have found that with Bruce, who played 26 innings at first base for the Reds in 2014 and returned to the position with the Mets and Indians last season for the first time since then -- grading out as average in 91 innings at the position, per FanGraphs.
The Mets have reportedly told Bruce to expect to play some time at first base in 2018. And how often he plays there will likely have a lot to do with Smith, who didn't do enough during his debut in 2017 to win the first base job outright, Sandy Alderson said earlier this offseason. However, Alderson recently backed off those comments a bit, expressing confidence in Smith.
If Smith takes the job and runs with it, that will likely mean Bruce has a home in the oufield -- especially because he and Smith are both left-handed hitters, which eliminates the idea of a natural platoon at first base.
Or, the Mets could trade Smith now in order to address another area of need before he even has the chance to prove himself, and put Bruce at first base, rendering the above moot and lessening any logjam there might be in the outfield once Conforto is healthy. I don't think they should do it, but they could.
The point is that the Mets have lots of options, and are likely just starting to execute them, as MetsBlog's Matthew Cerrone pointed out earlier today.