The Mets dealt Jay Bruce to the Indians for pitching prospect Ryder Ryan on Wednesday night, reportedly turning down the Yankees' offer of two prospects.
The Yankees, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, offered $1 million in salary relief, while the Indians assumed the entire $3.7 million owed to Bruce. But that's not all that was at play...
1) Bruce was traded for more than just one reason
It's possible the Mets chose dealing with the Indians, despite getting one prospect not two, because Fred and Jeff Wilpon and Sandy Alderson wanted to save money, which they'll hopefully spend on new talent this winter. However, it's also very possible the Mets simply did not want to help the Yankees get to the playoffs in a season when the Mets expected to be the better of the two New York teams. Remember, the Yankees had interest in acquiring Lucas Duda and Addison Reed, and instead Alderson sent them to Cashman's top division rivals (the Rays and Red Sox).
At the same time, it's also possible the deal had less to do with money and rivalries and more to do with Alderson preferring Ryan to whomever was being offered by the Yankees. It's hard to imagine one below-average minor leaguer ever being a better option than two. But, I've never seen Ryan pitch, I know nothing about him, and I don't know who the Yankees were offering, so I suppose it is plausible that Alderson's staff and scouts preferred one over the other.
In reality, Bruce is probably on the Indians not for any singular reason. Instead, he was probably traded to Cleveland and not the Bronx for a combination of all of the above (saving money, not helping the Yankees, and liking Ryan more than Cashman's talent).
2) The Mets are going to pursue a defensive CF this winter
The fact that Ryan is a less-than-impressive prospect tells me Mets clearly had no interest in bringing back Bruce for 2018 (even if it meant him accepting a one-year, $20 million qualifying offer). In order to get a draft pick as compensation for Bruce signing a contract with another team this winter, the Mets were going to have to extend him a qualifying offer and risk him accepting it. And, they obviously would have taken that risk had they been okay with bringing him back.
However, given that Ryan -- and the two prospects being offered by the Yankees for Bruce -- were likely worth less than the potential compensatory draft pick, it tells me Alderson eventually came to the conclusion that he would rather start next season without Bruce and without the draft pick than start next season with Bruce.
Why? During the last few weeks, while talking with agents and other teams about potential trades, the Mets clearly convinced themselves they can acquire a center fielder this winter, which would allow them to start Michael Conforto in right field. Otherwise, they'd have gone with Conforto in center and risked having Bruce in right, which would be better than any other combination they could end up with if pursuing a corner outfielder other than Bruce.
I like this approach, because the Mets need a tried-and-true center fielder picking fly balls behind their pitching staff. I don't know who this player will be, but he has to be an elite defender and better than Conforto, who -- though he can physically play center -- really should be in a corner outfield position.
The point is, if they wanted him for next season, the Mets would have kept Bruce this season. Instead, they let him go because, with Conforto and not Bruce as their right fielder, they can acquire a legit center fielder. Otherwise, they would not have accepted only Ryan in place of risking Bruce might return for 2018.
3) There was never a major market for Bruce
Bruce hits home runs and home runs are less valuable today than a few years ago. This is fact, at least based on what countless league executives and agents told me during July. Bruce is a terrific guy, he's durable, he's a strong leader and fun presence on any winning team. But, he's also slow, with an okay glove, and notorious for being very streaky. If he isn't hitting home runs, teams view him as a liability. And, in a league that is setting home run records left and right, Bruce just isn't a big deal, even though we know from watching him how he can be an asset. These are the facts and they're undisputed outside of New York.
That said, the only reason Bruce is on the Indians today is because their everyday left fielder, Michael Brantley, just injured himself at the same time their other top outfielder, Lonnie Chisenhall, is also on the DL. In other words, suddenly desperate for a power-hitting outfielder, Cleveland called Alderson and quickly made a deal for Bruce. Could Alderson have put the Indians on hold and dialed Cashman to nickel and dime a bit more out of the Bronx? I suppose. However, read below....
4) Come hell or high water, the Mets weren't helping the Yankees
The way I understand it from people connected to both teams, the Mets had been aware of Brian Cashman's two-player offer for several days. I assume because the deal never got done, Alderson was less than impressed with the talent being offered in return. And that position clearly continued because, when Cleveland called him, Alderson took the offer without ever giving Cashman the opportunity to do better.
Being the unemotional, calculated businessman that he is, Alderson is on record as saying he has no issue dealing with the Yankees. I believe him. I'm sure this is true. However, I bet his bosses feel otherwise, and I totally understand where they're coming from. I mean, be honest with yourself. As an emotional Mets fan, tell me you would truly rather get an extra low-level minor leaguer -- and the satisfaction of knowing ownership swallowed a million dollars or two -- so that Bruce could potentially help the Yankees get to the playoffs. I just find it hard to believe any Mets fan would actually agree to this situation.
Imagine the Mets sent Bruce to the Bronx, where he hits a huge home run at Yankee Stadium in the Wild Card game, pushing the Yankees to the ALDS. Due to his heroics, Bruce is all over the back pages and being heralded by Yankees fans, who now get an open door to relentlessly mock Mets fans. How do you think that would feel? When your Yankee fan friend is taunting you about how the Mets are a joke and the Yankees and Bruce are awesome, are we really going to feel better by knowing the Fred and Jeff Wilpon paid a few million extra dollars (of not our money) to get two prospects we most likely will never hear from again? Trust me, that wasn't going to help. In fact, it would probably have made this disaster of a seasons worse than it already is...
In other words, I'm glad the Mets got slightly less in a deal from Cleveland and did nothing to help the Yankees get to October. If this is Duda or Reed -- and not Bruce -- and we're talking about upper-level pitching prospects, I trade with the Yankees. But, when we're potentially talking low-level, average-at-best talent, I help the Indians all day and never return Cashman's call.
5) Alderson is thinking about the future
Once it was determined the Mets would not be making the playoffs, Alderson clearly set his sights on restocking his farm system with as many arms as possible. In return for Bruce, Duda, and Reed, and saving $10 million on this year's payroll, he acquired five minor leaguers who project to be relief pitchers. And, it's possible they pick up more arms and save more money by soon dealing Asdrubal Cabrera, Neil Walker, and/or Curtis Granderson all of whom reportedly cleared waivers and can freely be dealt during August. In regards to potential deals, I'm mostly watching the Brewers, who have interest in Cabrera and Granderson and seem willing to trade more than one pitcher.
In the end, I would prefer the Mets have stayed healthy this season, won with their veterans and gotten themselves to a third consecutive postseason. However, given that this isn't what happened, given that it all fell apart so fast, I like that Alderson did his best to add as many relief pitchers to his system as possible.
The game is about to see a further specialization in pitching, and by acquiring five arms, plus drafting people that were only relievers in college, the Mets will hopefully be in good position to ride this market wave. As such, I'd gladly bring in seven minor leaguers with limited and realistic potential as opposed to two or three blue chip prospects. There is no such thing as pitching prospect, they say. And, if we learned anything the least two years, it's that this adage is true. The more arms in the system the better the chance that one or two hit, pan out, and eventually make an impact at the big-league level.