Jay Bruce will have roughly 35 games between now and the end of this season to keep himself healthy and prove his value to the Mets and the rest of MLB.
When asked Friday if he could envision Bruce as the team's full-time first baseman in 2019, manager Mickey Callaway said "I definitely think that's a possibility."
Bruce entered this season having played at least 137 games each of the last eight seasons, the last half of which he hit at least 30 home runs each year.
But after signing his first free agent contract at 30 years old -- a three-year, $39 million deal with the Mets -- he has missed 64 games this season.
Bruce was put on the disabled list with a hip injury. However, as I predicted a month earlier this season when saying he was likely dealing with a spine issue, he eventually complained on record about experiencing pain in his lower back and upper buttocks, only after which he complained of the hip.
As we know from David Wright's situation, nearby muscles often to go into spasm and experience referred pain when the facet joints in the spine are inflamed. Sure enough, after again experiencing pain in his hip while rehabbing in early July, Bruce received an injection in one of the facet joints in his back. He was then shut down for 10 days.
Injections are intended to reduce inflammation in the joint. Of course, there's no guarantee they will work. And even if they do, the referred pain often reemerges because the shot is not a permanent solution to the main issue at hand.
Meanwhile, the Mets are paying Bruce $11 million this year, which is followed by $14 million each of the next two seasons.
"He feels like his timing is getting there,'' Callaway said Wednesday about Bruce. "His feet feel great, his back feels great, so he's in a really good spot, physically."
Bruce, 31, is hitting just .212 with a .292 OBP, three home runs and 17 RBI this season.
According to Callaway, despite having just three outfielders, but two first basemen on the roster, Bruce is expected to also play first base when he rejoins the team.
SNY editor Danny Abriano and I debated two weeks ago why Bruce, who is traditionally an outfielder, would get time at first base while Triple-A 1B prospect Peter Alonso is daring the Mets to promote him by climbing every top prospect list and leading his league with 32 home runs.
The only reason I could come up with is that by showing other teams that Bruce is healthy, mobile, hitting and still able to play first base, despite recently dealing with plantar fasciitis, it might make him enticing in trade.
Bruce is known for being an up-and-down, hot-and-cold player, especially when it comes to his power. So, the only way I see the Mets being able to deal Bruce this winter -- assuming they want to -- is if he gets on one of his patented hot streaks and hits between 5-10 home runs and just below .300 for a month. He'll also have to prove he can remain healthy playing every day at first base and corner outfield, meaning the Mets can legit market him as a two-position power hitter.
The thing is, even if Bruce hits and doesn't get hurt, the Mets will almost certainly still be expected to pay enough of his salary that he gets down to being an $8-10 million player.
In other words, despite likely working to deal him, Bruce will almost certainly be with the Mets next season on a roster that will also include Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo. And, while that makes for the appropriate number of outfielders, it would be really, really nice to get a legit, defense-first center fielder (if Juan Lagares isn't healthy) who could strengthen the team's up-the-middle fielding and take pressure off the pitching staff and corner outfielders.
In the event Bruce is in the outfield, it means one of Conforto or Nimmo needs to play center field. And, while they can handle the position, neither player is winning a Gold Glove out there or leading the league in putouts any time soon.
The next GM could still acquire the ideal center fielder and put Bruce at first base, but such a move would block both Dominic Smith and Alonso.
As a result, the more likely scenario is putting Bruce at first base to start next season in hopes that he picks up where he left off at the end of 2017, at which point he'll be more tradable in June or July when Alonso can be promoted and Yoenis Cespedes should be returning from the DL.
The Mets could also skip getting a new center fielder, put Bruce in a corner outfield spot, start Alonso at first base and then try to trade Bruce when Cespedes returns.
The point is, while trading Bruce may give the Mets options this winter, keeping Bruce also gives the Mets options next season. But, more importantly, he gives them zero options if he doesn't stay healthy and can't perform during the next 35 games.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!