Jay Bruce is interested in returning to the Mets next season, but he's also open to all opportunities and offers, he recently told the NY Post's Kevin Kernan.
Bruce is eligible to be a free agent and intends to test the open market this winter for the first time since being drafted by the Reds in 2005.
"I feel great. I feel comfortable. I love the guys here,'' he added. However, he continued, "I'm not dismissing any type of opportunity that I have here in the future, but I'm also not assuming that that's going to be the case either. People work a long time to get to free agency and I think that's important. This most definitely will be a viable option for me. We'll just have to wait and see.''
In 2011, four years after making his big-league debut, and two years away from being a potential free agent, Bruce signed a six-year, $51 million contract extension with the Reds. He could have been a free agent last winter, but the Mets picked up his $13 million option to retain him for 2017.
Mets hitting coach Kevin Long told Kernan that Bruce is underrated by most fans and media, and that he's also the model of consistency.
"I would say he is one of the top outfielders in the game," Long added. "The professionalism he brings is day in and day out. It seems like every day he does something to affect the game in a positive way."
Bruce reportedly cleared waivers this past weekend, which means the Mets are now free to trade him to any team with interest in acquiring him.
If the Mets don't trade Bruce, they can extend him a qualifying offer after the season. However, because of a change in the CBA, if Bruce declines, they will only been able to recoup a draft pick in the 70-to-80 range (not a sandwich pick after the first round).
According to the team's MLB.com beat reporter, Anthony DiComo, "The Mets consider Bruce a potential solution for the 2018 outfield and beyond," leading to speculation they will keep him -- and not deal him -- for the remainder of this season.
Bruce missed the team's last two games with a stiff neck, but said Sunday he fully expects to return to the lineup when the Mets begin a series with the Rangers tonight at Citi Field.
The 30-year-old Bruce is hitting .260 with 29 home runs and 75 RBI this season. He is on pace to hit 42 home runs, which would be the most in any season of his career.
In an effort to create playing time for Michael Conforto and Curtis Granderson, Bruce will continue to occasionally start at first base, as he did Sunday, Collins said this past weekend.
"Jay and I have talked a lot about it," Collins explained. "To be honest, I think it's a huge step for him to tell people, 'Hey look, I can do more than just play right field.' ... I've been very impressed with the way he's handled it. I think he's athletic enough to play there, he's got good hands, he's actually got very, very good arm action to play first."
Neil Walker started at first base on Saturday. According to Collins, in addition to first and second base, Walker is expected to start a game or two at third base as well.
Matthew Cerrone (Twitter | Instagram | About Me): The Mets will soon promote Dominic Smith, possibly as early as tonight. Smith is 22 years old, an elite prospect and the team's future everyday first baseman. In the meantime, by showing what Bruce is capable of at first base, it could increase his August trade value. And, if it doesn't, it gives the Mets some added insight in to what role he might be able to play next season.
For instance, if Bruce accepts the team's one-year qualifying offer (which MLB is likely to set in the $20 million range), he could be used as a backup first baseman for Smith, plus be their regular right fielder. Of course, in that scenario, Conforto will be their center fielder, which I don't believe is Sandy Alderson's first choice. But, it's viable and will create options on the roster and contingency plans in the field.
Similarly, by showing that Walker can play first and third base, it shows that he too has more value than an everyday second baseman, thus maybe increasing his chances of being traded this August. Again, though, if he isn't dealt, he allows the Mets to consider whether he can be an everyday option at third base, since it's assumed David Wright will again struggle to play in 2018. Or, it could create a home in Queens for Walker as a switch-hitting, veteran, super utility guy capable of playing first, second, and third base.