The Mets have said 1B prospect Peter Alonso was not promoted this September because they wanted to see if Jay Bruce could be an option at first base next season.
The team also didn't want to promote Alonso so they could delay beginning his service time clock until next season. That said, it does make sense to see Bruce play as much first base as possible to best gauge how he can be used going forward...
"I think we need to make some sort of determination going into the offseason whether it is feasible bringing him back as a first baseman next year," Mets manager Mickey Callaway admitted last month. "I definitely think that is a possibility. I think that is one of the things we need to find out this last part of the season."
Unfortunately for Callaway, Bruce continues to look mostly adequate and -- at times -- below average when faced with rare situations in the field.
His two games played against the Dodgers earlier this week sum up his struggles to convince anyone he can be more than a fill-in at the position.
"Offensively, he's looked great," Mets manager Mickey Callaway recently noted. "I'm sure he feels like he's in a really good spot."
Bruce, 31, had three hits, including a home run, in seven at bats in Los Angeles.
However, he also pulled up short on a routine popup down the first-base line, after which the batter hit a ground ball to third base that was bobbled and allowed a run to score.
He could also be seen frequently shuffling his feet struggling to gain proper positioning holding runners on base and when setting up to receive throws from his infielders.
"It's experience. There are so many nuances," Bruce explained about first base. "People think you can just throw anybody over at first base, but I don't think that's true. I think the first baseman can make a big difference on a team. If I am going to play first base, I want to be able to make a positive difference and I think that I can."
Bruce will earn $14 million each of the next two seasons, after which he can be a free agent.
He is hitting .270 with 2 home runs and just 4 RBI since returning from an eight-week stint on the disabled list for issues related to his feet, hip and spine.
He entered this season having played at least 137 games each season since becoming a full-time player in 2010, during which he averaged 31 home runs each year. This season, however, he's on pace to play in just 90 games, while hitting fewer than 10 home runs for the first time in his career.
"I'd be lying to you if I told you that I didn't want a restart on this year," Bruce recently told reporters. "What's happened has happened and I want to hold up my end of the bargain. I want to be out there and play every day, and do what I can do help this team."
Interestingly, if Bruce is still in need of correcting the plantar fasciitis in his heel, which he first complained about in spring training, first base may actually be a better option for him because he'll be more mobile and able to keep blood flowing through the foot.
In the outfield, he's more sedentary, putting weight on his heels, which will not only create further pain in his feet, but also create possible pain in his lower back, which is what extended his most recent stay on the DL.
During the past two years, Bruce has played 21 games at first base, all but one of which was with the Mets. For the most part, he's been a slightly below average fielding first baseman, while also presenting as a slightly below average right fielder.
"He's slow to get moving," an NL evaluator told me. "He's got a delayed first step so balls get by him. He's also late making adjustments, which is going to impact the other guys on the infield."
The point is, similar to right field, while he makes all of the routine plays and maybe ones slightly out of direct reach, anything beyond routine is going to be a challenge at first base.
The thing is, can he be enough to hold down the position until Alonso is promoted? To answer this, I think the team -- and, specifically, their next GM -- needs to be honest with itself about whether the Mets can contend for a playoff spot next season.
In other words, if the realistic goal next season is to win 90 games and play through October, it means needing to win as many games as possible during April and May. So far the past week or so, Bruce is showing that he'll hurt more than he'll help by playing first base for a consistent stretch next season...
This doesn't help the Mets and their roster, but it also hurts their chance of trading him this winter (if that's something the next GM is wanting to do).
To move him as a strict outfielder, I've heard MLB insiders say the Mets will need to pay down or offset at least $10 million of his salary to get him down to being an $8-10 million player.
Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo have both earned the opportunity to be everyday outfielders next season, especially with how they've performed the past month. The team also will be paying $20 million next year to Yoenis Cespedes, who is not expected back from the disabled list until mid-to-late summer. And, while that eventually makes for the appropriate number of outfielders, it's high time the Mets have a legit, everyday, defense-first center fielder who can strengthen the team's up-the-middle fielding and take pressure off the pitching staff and corner outfielders.
However, if Bruce can only be in right field, it means Conforto or Nimmo will need to play center field. And, while they can handle the position, neither player is winning a Gold Glove or leading the league in putouts any time soon.
The alternative and most probable scenario will be more of the same, which will be passing on acquiring a new center fielder and, instead, splitting Bruce between right field and first base until Alonso is ready to promoted, which should be roughly the same time Cespedes is nearing his return from the disabled list.
At that point, the Mets can try to trade Bruce, who will be due less money and time on his contract, or do nothing and rotate him in and out of multiple positions or bench him depending on who is or isn't on the disabled list. Because, based on what we're seeing the past week or so, at 31 years old, Bruce is going to need to work extra hard this winter to make himself a viable, everyday first baseman...
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!