The Mets showed off a new face on Wednesday even though it was an old face. It was Jay Bruce’s face, which featured an ear-to-ear smile as he was reintroduced at Citi Field after signing a three-year, $39-million contract.
Bruce said he has “unfinished business as a Met,” which was appropriate because the Mets still have one more piece of unfinished business before spring training opens next month.
The 2018 Mets are pretty much a done deal. The exception is second base (or maybe third), where general manager Sandy Alderson is planning to use the same approach that brought Bruce back to Flushing: be patient and then strike quickly if a bargain appears.
“A trade is a possibility if we were to try to improve in that area,” Alderson said. “I think we’d prefer to sign a free agent only because it doesn’t require us to give up talent. We have talent to give up — it’s not like we don’t have players that anybody wants. There’s been a lot of talk about our farm system. It’s not as strong as it used to be, but we’ve got plenty of good players that people want. I’ve never been big on giving up young players anyway. Again, we’ll just have to see how it all shakes out. We’re always comparing value. Whether it’s a trade or free agency, those are things that we would consider.”
When asked if he was still committed to adding an infielder, Alderson said: “I wouldn’t say committed. But we come to work every day.”
The available pool of free-agent second basemen has shrunk to Neil Walker, Eduardo Nuñez and Jose Reyes. Nuñez is a former Yankee, Walker and Reyes were on the Mets in 2017. Or the Mets could sign former Yankees third baseman Todd Frazier and move Asdrubal Cabrera from third to second.
The trade market includes Cleveland’s Jason Kipnis, whom the Mets nearly had a deal for earlier this offseason. Infielder Josh Harrison suggested he wants out of Pittsburgh on Tuesday, and he could be a fit for either the Mets or Yankees.
Kipnis and Harrison both have significant guaranteed money coming to them. Frazier and Walker won’t come cheaply. Only Reyes in that group would be considered a low-money signing.
As it often seems to come back to with the Mets, Alderson was asked if he still has enough money to make a “significant” signing or trade acquisition.
“I think so,” he said.
Alderson did say he doesn’t think the Mets need to add another bullpen arm. So, Mets fans, once they add another infielder, this is likely what your 2018 Mets will look like, with Bruce as the cleanup hitter and rightfielder — though his defensive position could change when Michael Conforto returns from his shoulder injury around May 1.
“I think that we start with the assumption that Conforto will not be ready [for Opening Day],” Alderson said. “As we look at it right now, I think Jay will be in right, [Brandon] Nimmo and [Juan] Lagares will be in center and [Yoenis] Cespedes in left. And we’ll go from there.”
When Conforto returns, the obvious move would be to play him in center. But if the Mets are happy with the production of the Nimmo/Lagares platoon and unhappy with what they are getting out of first base, Conforto could play right and push Bruce to first more often than he expects.
“I kind of made it known from the beginning that whatever they need me to do I’m willing to do,” Bruce said. “First base is not my first choice . . . But if they need that to happen, then I’m obviously willing to do it.”
Alderson did not announce the signing of first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, but that should be coming soon. Gonzalez will compete with Dominic Smith in spring training, and Alderson also mentioned Wilmer Flores as a first-base candidate.
“I like the breadth of our options,” Alderson said.
Of course, for this overall plan to work the Mets will have to have much better health than they did in 2017.
Said Bruce: “I feel like that we’re a healthy season away from being right in the thick of it. That opportunity is a huge reason that I came back. To be able to legitimately feel like you’re going to be able to contend to win a World Series in a place like New York is something not everyone has a chance to do. I think health is going to be the determining factor.”