By Ernie Palladino
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Just when you thought the Mets were going to throw away the check ledger, they let money get in the way of a smarter deal for Jay Bruce.
It's not the fact that they traded the veteran slugger to Cleveland, per se, that seems irksome. With the season having gone straight into the toilet, selling off their top power hitter to fortify the future made all the sense in the world. The presence of Bruce and his team-leading 29 homers and 75 RBIs had become immaterial, anyway, as the year's sole interests turn to the comeback of Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey, and the promotion of slugging first baseman Dominic Smith.
Unloading Bruce for a minor-leaguer or two was a natural move.
The problem is that the Yankees had reportedly offered a better package than the Single-A infield convert the Mets got from the Indians. Their prospects, from a rich farm system, were presumably closer to the majors than Ryder Ryan is, especially after the former University of North Carolina third baseman posted a 4.79 ERA over a control-marred 41 1/3 innings in low-A ball.
The main attraction for Ryan was all about the bucks. The Indians were willing to pick up the $5 million that remained on Bruce's contract. The Yankees weren't.
So since they could pay less, the Mets took less. Possibly a lot less if Ryan doesn't pan out during however long the organization plans to stick with him.
Too bad. For a while, it looked like the Mets wanted to act like a serious club. When Yoenis Cespedes opted out of his contract after last year, they lured him back with $110 million over four years. And then they picked up the option on Bruce as insurance on Cespedes' health.
Smart move. Cespedes has missed a slew of games to injury this year. And Bruce had thrived.
And then the Mets sent him away for what could well amount to a failed prospect to save $5 million.
Granted, those dollars could come in handy in the offseason. With general manager Sandy Alderson facing a major rebuild, free agency should play a major role.
Trading Bruce's salary, combined with those of previous departures Lucas Duda to Tampa Bay and Addison Reed to Boston, upped the war chest by $10.6 million.
But the question is whether the Wilpons will give Alderman the green light to spend that money. Unlike the Yanks, whose recent economics contrast with their free-spending ways when George Steinbrenner ran the show, the Mets have historically looked at large payrolls as parents regard diaper rash -- something to be avoided whenever possible.
The offseason will reveal whether the Bruce deal proves a retreat into cheaper days or a monetary prelude to importing real veteran talent. The Mets could conceivably sign Bruce back in free agency.
For now, though, they clearly took the lesser deal.
Not that any of this impacts the current situation. Bruce could have hit 30 homers over the last few months, and it wouldn't have gotten the Mets any closer to the playoffs. Not with Steven Matz pitching in his current state or Rafael Montero continuing to make people wonder whose bright idea it was to hand him a major league uniform in the first place.
Bruce, like Curtis Granderson, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Neil Walker, who remain, had simply become an expendable part.
But if a team wants to ship off a productive bat, the talent it gets in return should be the priority. The Yanks undoubtedly beat the Indians in that category.
Money issues should come way down the line.
The Mets took less for Bruce. Probably a lot less.
They have to justify that by turning it into more during free agency.
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