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The Reds' end of the deal went through various permutations throughout the day as medicals were reviewed and rejected. It seemed like Brandon Nimmo would be the main piece going to Cincinnati, but in the end it was the Mets' former second baseman of the future, Dilson Herrera that grabbed the charter flight to the land of Skyline 'chili.' Herrera doesn't qualify as a prospect anymore after cups of coffee in 2014 and 2015, so he inhabits that weird E-space between prospect and established major leaguer.
Herrera's arm limits him to second base, but he has flashed impressive raw power out of his (listed) 5-foot-10 frame. The swing can get a bit mechanical at times, and he thinks he's taller than he is when it comes to fastballs, but he is athletic enough and flashes enough feel with the barrel to project an average hit tool in the majors. Herrera is still more of an athlete in the field than a second baseman, but projects as an average defender there. He's now spent over a season's worth of games in the PCL, hitting .300/.354/.485. Yeah, that is the Pacific Coast League, and more specifically, Las Vegas, but he is still only 22, and hasn't looked horribly overmatched in his big-league stints. Herrera may not have a gaudy ceiling given his defensive and hit tool limitations, but he is ready to be a second-division starter in the majors right now. Do the Reds have a spot for him with Brandon Phillips comfortably ensconced at the keystone and Jose Peraza kicking around the major-league roster as a super-utility type? That is less clear.
Max Wotell is the flyer in this deal, but he is far from just a throw-in. The Mets' fifth-round pick in 2015 is an athletic lefty with an unorthodox delivery that will inevitably garner Chris Sale comps. He's athletic enough to repeat it, and while the stuff isn't in the same league as Sale's, Wotell can run a lively fastball into the low 90s, and shows an advanced breaking ball for his age. He's a long way from the majors, and the Mets loaded up on prep lefties in the 2015 draft, so this may be a bit of dealing from depth, but he is a nice second piece for the Reds.
Holt hasn’t hit much this year, posting a .217/.289/.252 line with the Reds as a part-time player, but it looks like he’ll get the first shot at Jay Bruce’s vacated spot in right field in Cincinnati. He’ll have to start hitting to keep it for more than a couple of weeks, though. Otherwise, the rebuilding Reds will give someone else a shot to see if they might be a part of the team’s future.
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Acquire OF-L Jay Bruce from the Reds for 2B-R Dilson Herrera and LHP Max Wotell. [8/1]
During the 2014-2015 offseason, it seemed as if the San Diego Padres scooped up every possible corner outfielder they could, despite having gaping holes in the infield and a defense that could only be charitably called “unpredictable.” Despite that talent-over-fit philosophy well and truly failing out west, the Mets seem to be trying another version of this setup by acquiring right fielder Jay Bruce… despite the team already fielding at least three starting-caliber corner outfielders.
One could see why Bruce is a desirable commodity—after two seasons where he posted True Averages of .244 and .261, he’s having a career year at precisely the right time. An All-Star selection for the National League, Bruce already has 53 extra-base hits (25 homers) and a .310 True Average for 2016. What he lacks in contact ability, he makes up for with serious power (career .470 slugging) which will likely still play in Citi Field just as well as it did in Cincinnati. I tend to think that the currently mashing version of Jay Bruce hasn’t made a major technical adjustment or the like, and as such he’ll return to earth at some point when he stops maintaining his incredible 20.8 percent home run to flyball rate. While this probably isn’t a dead cat bounce, I’m yet to be convinced that time won’t cause him to revert to a player not much different than the one he was last season.
Bruce is a fine player—not good, but fine—with a couple of big flaws. Normally I’d be a fan of a deal like this up front, as it is the type of deal that forces teams to get creative, and make adjustments on the fly in order to field the best possible team in that regard. Given the Mets’ current issues, the problem isn’t that Jay Bruce isn’t an upgrade over Brandon Nimmo or whomever else he’s unseating in New York; he probably is. The problem is one of fit and finances. First, the Mets are now in a position where they have to play one of Michael Conforto or Curtis Granderson in center field regularly, until Juan Lagares comes back from injury. If Cespedes is out for a stretech, then there’s literally no other option than for the Mets to field one of Granderson, Bruce, or Conforto in the position regularly. At the same time, most of the Mets’ host of corner outfielders also hit left-handed, meaning that Bruce doesn’t create an easy platoon with the existing team.
The second, and perhaps more troubling scenario is this: Why are the Mets spending so much money—Bruce has a team option for $13 million for next season—on players who could be redundant next year? During that 2017 season, the Mets will likely field a very similar outfield, minus the likely-to-opt-out Yoenis Cespedes. Curtis Granderson, Juan Lagares, Michael Conforto, and Brandon Nimmo should all likely return. Though last year the team spent more money than most would have expected to retain Cespedes, this is still a team that features the Wilpons as the team’s owners. As a result, it’s highly questionable whether or not the Mets will spend considerable money to exercise Bruce’s option and keep him around after 2016, or if they’ll open him up to the free market. If they do, will that take them out of the running to retain Cespedes? Will the team be able to offer extensions to any of their talented young pitchers? And will they be able to find capable infielders to replace David Wright and (most likely) Neil Walker?
The Mets had obviously turned away from Herrera as a likely regular in the infield—that much became clear once the team’s spate of injuries hit and Dilson continued to toil at Triple-A. Even though he’s a talented (non-)prospect, it appeared that he was simply a trade chit, so the Mets didn’t give up the world for Bruce. But it’s unlikely that Bruce can play a competent center field—it’s questionable whether or not he can play any competent outfield—so the Amazins still need some sort of center fielder. And a shortstop. And a third baseman. And, possibly, a first baseman. Bruce may be a guy capable of hitting many, many bombs into the Mets’ top hat, but perhaps this team would have been better served making a similar deal to the Reds for Zack Cozart. At least that Red would fill a need.
Jay Bruce has had a great season so far, hitting 25 home runs with an NL-leading 80 RBI while posting his highest batting average since 2013. Now a Met, he’ll continue to play every day, but his home run rate will suffer due to a new home park that’s less favorable to home run hitters. His RBI rate will probably decline, too, since he won’t be batting behind a guy with a .400-plus on-base percentage any more.
In the initial version of this deal, Brandon Nimmo was on his way to an everyday role in an outfield corner in Cincinnati. Nimmo was not included in the final version of the deal, however, leaving him as the odd man out in the Mets outfield behind Yoenis Cespedes, Curtis Granderson, the newly acquired Jay Bruce, and Michael Conforto. Barring multiple injuries or outfield defense so atrocious that it necessitates a move from Terry Collins, the 23-year-old won’t be in the lineup too often.
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