By Ernie Palladino
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By the time the Mets start playing spring training games in late February, Jay Bruce may well find himself in another uniform.
That would be the best outcome for everybody involved, even if the former Reds outfielder and current fifth wheel in the Mets' crowded outfield brings them a bag of balls and a bucket of Bubble Yum in return.
But if things continue through February and March like they have so far, Bruce may still be on Terry Collins' roster when the Mets open the season against Atlanta on April 3.
Though not the preference of either Collins, Sandy Alderson, or the legion of Mets fans who saw him struggle after coming over from the Reds on Aug. 1, having Bruce around wouldn't be tragic, either. As the Mets have shown throughout history, they're as liable as any other team to have injuries clear out a position.
In Bruce, they'd have a veteran backup who might or might not produce if any combination of Yoenis Cespedes, Curtis Granderson, Michael Conforto, or Juan Lagares goes down.
Again, Bruce is no sure thing with the bat, especially after he wilted over the final two post-trade months of the season under the Citi Field spotlight, producing just eight homers, 19 RBI, and a .219 BA.
But at least the Mets would have a veteran body out there.
That's more than they had when the pitching staff gradually vanished in 2016. There was nothing certain about Seth Lugo or Robert Gsellman when Alderson put in their calls to help an injury-depleted rotation. As well as those two did in compiling a 9-4 record in the absence of Matt Harvey and Steven Matz, the Mets did more than their share of breath-holding.
And need anyone be reminded of the mess at third base two years ago when David Wright went out early?
Having a little extra backup in any position is never the worst thing. The problem is, the Mets still don't have that additional bullpen arm, which looms ever more important in light of Jeurys Familia's potential suspension for domestic abuse. With Bruce due to make $13 million in 2017, Alderson could use that money to buy himself one or even two of the remaining relievers in the open market.
Here's the other problem. The Mets aren't going to get even one quality arm for Bruce. According to Philadelphia station CSN, the Mets are looking for a couple of minor league prospects for the outfielder. That's not a heavy price, though any trade partner -- the Giants and Rangers are rumored to have an interest -- would probably want the Mets to eat a portion of Bruce's contract.
The Wilpons wouldn't like that, considering they're looking to trim about $9 million off their $149 million payroll. The ingestion of contract money won't get them close enough to that goal to make such a deal worthwhile.
But that's exactly what Alderson may have to do, unless he decides he'll live with Bruce until a suitor pops up in-season. That, too, has been proven possible. He held onto Ike Davis until April 18 last year before the Pirates offered a pair of minor leaguers.
If Bruce does hang around, it will give Collins a chance to give Conforto a few at-bats at first base. Again, not a bad thing.
In the end, the Mets may have to carry a player they got ostensibly as an insurance policy against Cespedes leaving in free agency. When the Cuban slugger put his name on his new, four-year, $110 million deal, Bruce became the ultimate fifth wheel.
But for a team with a history of injuries, the extra cog could come in handy, at least in the early weeks of the season.
Keeping Bruce around is not ideal. It's not even a desirable option.
But baseball is a funny game where even the least appetizing option can work out.
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