Jay Bruce is making $13 million this year. That’s a fair amount of money, the result of a team option at the end of an extension he signed as a member of the Reds. Bruce is a bit of a one-dimensional player, but it’s money he’s earned. Good for Jay Bruce.
The Mets are 50–61 and in fourth place. They are bad, and they’re not going anywhere this year. They’ve already sold off Addison Reed and Lucas Duda, and a large portion of their good players are either on the DL or underperforming. It’s not their year. Typically, that means they should be focusing on amassing young controllable talent for future endeavors. And they’ve done that. Kind of. Sort of. Not really.
They got three minor-league relievers from Boston for Reed. And after sending Bruce to Cleveland on a waiver-wire deal, they just got another minor-league reliever. To be specific, they got Ryder Ryan, a 30th-round pick from last year’s draft who has an ERA of nearly 5 in A-ball. For Jay Bruce, who’s hit 29 home runs this year.
Look, we know the market for bats was virtually nonexistent this summer. The Diamondbacks got J.D. Martinez for way less than anyone expected. The A’s traded Yonder Alonso on another waiver deal, and while he’s cooled off significantly since the start of the season, the Mariners got him for very cheap. Bruce didn’t get moved until now, and only because Michael Brantley got hurt. Clearly, one-dimensional outfielders weren’t in heavy demand. But the Mets took this to another level. This is a bad return, even given that cold market.
Why? Because Cleveland picked up all the money owed to Bruce, making him a less attractive asset. Had the Mets covered some (or, perish the thought, all) of the money, they could have quite easily gotten a prospect of real value for him. This is the Mets we’re talking about, though, so that was never going to happen.
The Mets didn’t trade Bruce to turn lemons into lemonade, focus on the future, and collect a decent prospect or two. They cleared his salary off their books and, as an afterthought, happened to pick up a struggling A-ball reliever in the process. It’s not like Bruce’s money impacted their bookkeeping for 2018. His remaining salary this year wouldn’t have inhibited any potential spending towards next year’s team. Barring the acquisition of a larger contract in a forthcoming trade (and again, this is the Mets, so don’t hold your breath), the only reason to insist on dumping all of Bruce’s salary is to save a quick buck. The Mets chose to not acquire a better bet in terms of minor league talent just for the sake of being cheap.
And we aren’t just hypothesizing about the possibility of a better return.
Mets chose to dump Bruce's full salary instead of NYY offer, which I hear involved two prospects that other teams asked about at deadline.— Marc Carig (@MarcCarig) August 10, 2017
The Yankees need a bat. Their offense has been struggling, and Matt Holliday just went on the DL. Bruce could have served as DH in his stead, and his lefty bat would have gone a long way to balance out the righty-heavy Yankee lineup. It seems that the Yankees were willing to both eat a portion of the money on Bruce’s contract, and to part with a pair of decent prospects. That’s a slam dunk for the Mets, right? The Yankees are clearly pissed off if they’re leaking details like this, and it’s hard to blame them, especially after they lost out on Duda to the rival Rays. Brian Cashman is not happy.
It should be noted that the Yankees also look a little dumb in this case, though. It’s more than a little odd that the Yankees weren’t willing to take on all of Bruce’s money, especially if they could’ve held on to all their real prospects in such a trade. They are, after all, the big bad New York Yankees; money isn’t an issue with them, at any point, for any asset. Yet suddenly they’re tightening their pursestrings while pursuing a sorely-needed addition. That’s not exactly a good look.
That’s not to say that they look as bad as the Mets. The Yankees’ triflings here aren’t hurting their long-term viability, and they shouldn’t have to take on all of Bruce’s money to pull off this trade. Their offer was clearly superior to Cleveland’s, even without knowing the names of the specific prospects they offered. Or, it’s superior from the perspective of a normal team, one that prioritizes winning over a couple million dollars. This isn’t the first time the Mets have done this sort of thing; it isn’t the first time they’ve forsaken better talent in the name of relatively small savings.
It’s an irresponsible way for a franchise to behave. If the Wilpons (the Mets’ owners) aren’t willing to be even slightly financially inconvenienced for the sake of winning, then they shouldn’t be in the business of owning a franchise, especially in a major market like New York. Similarly, the Yankees shouldn’t be in the business of being financially outrun by Cleveland.
Cleveland got better with this deal. They absorbed a bit of the blow of Brantley being hurt, and they have another bat to play around with down the stretch and in the playoffs, where they’ll likely be playing the Yankees in the first round if New York can win the AL East.
The Mets didn’t get better. They got a little richer than they were planning on being. Ryder Ryan may eventually make the big leagues, but from a statistical standpoint, the odds aren’t in his favor at the moment.
This isn’t new for Mets fans. Cynical cash grabs aren’t novel to them. It’s a pitiful way to run a franchise. In the long run, the downgrade to Ryan probably doesn’t mean all that very much from a baseball standpoint. But it’s indicative of a longstanding problem with the Mets, and one that doesn’t seem likely to be fixed anytime soon.