PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Despite the Mets’ best efforts to deal him elsewhere, that indeed was Jay Bruce who plopped himself down Thursday morning at the Tradition Field podium, ready to report for duty as the team’s starting rightfielder.
“I’m not surprised by anything at this point,” said Bruce, who admitted he was fully aware of the trade chatter this winter. “I keep a pretty level head about whatever happens. Obviously they traded for me and they feel like they probably gave up some quality prospects. I don’t believe they were going to let five or six weeks or whatever completely determine my fate with the organization.”
The Mets picked up the $13-million option on Bruce because, at the time, it seemed like a reasonable price to pay for an outfielder who slugged 33 home runs overall — 25 with the Reds before the Aug. 1 trade to Flushing. What they didn’t realize is how difficult it would be to move him once they re-signed Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $110-million deal.
As a result, Bruce is now back with the Mets — stuck in a very crowded outfield — and is faced with the challenge of shaking off a dismal 50-game stretch (.219 BA, .391 SLG, 8 HRs) that tarnished his brilliant first half in Cincinnati.
“I think it definitely bothers me that I wasn’t playing well,” Bruce said. “Obviously coming here to a fan base full of passionate, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately fans, I can understand the frustration.
“But in the same breath, I didn’t really concern myself with what the fans were thinking. I wanted to contribute to the team and I didn’t do that as well as I could have early on. That’s what I was bothered by most — I wasn’t contributing. There’s obviously a lot more there and I look forward to just playing this year.”
Terry Collins said earlier this week that Bruce could be added to the first base mix, which currently includes Lucas Duda as the starter, Neil Walker and potentially David Wright, depending on how he progresses from back surgery. While Bruce said he hasn’t been asked, he’s willing to listen.
“I haven’t been told anything about that yet,” Bruce said. “I’ve obviously just seen it reported. I played first base in high school. I’ve played three games at first base with the Reds. Almost done no work at first base. But that’s something Terry and I can definitely talk about. At the end of the day, I’m an employee of the New York Mets, so if they want me to do it, I’ll bust my [expletive] to make sure that I do what I can.”
As for how long Bruce may continue to be a Mets employee, he wouldn’t speculate.
“You’re asking the wrong guy,” Bruce said. “I’m here until I’m not. My job is to play baseball, not to worry about or concern myself with trade rumors or anything like that.
“No one really knows how long they’ll be here. Obviously a few guys do, I guess. You can get traded at any time. Obviously I’ve been traded once and gone through that. It is part of the game and it’s part of the business and I know that every team is trying to do whatever they can to make themselves better, so we’ll see. I’m definitely not concerning myself with it.
“I refuse to be a distraction in the clubhouse. That’s definitely not going to happen. Honestly, the only thing that’s happened is there’s been rumors. I’m here and I’m happy to be here. I’ll be here until I’m not.”