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Mets Hope to Recapture Deadline Magic with Jay Bruce Trade

NEW YORK — If you try something once and it works, you're going to try again.

Jay Bruce isn't Yoenis Cespedes. The 2016 New York Mets are not the 2015 Mets, and the National League East isn't the same as it was last year, either.

But on another deadline day, the Mets could dream. Mets fans could dream. Mets players could dream.

"There's been a lot of talk in our clubhouse the last few days: 'Are we going to get someone?'" Mets manager Terry Collins said. "Well, we did."

Well, they did. They got Bruce from the Cincinnati Reds, a year to the deadline day after getting Cespedes from the Detroit Tigers.

Now they have too many corner outfielders and no real center fielder. They have too many injuries and not enough certainty.

They know that. They admit that.

But even with Matt Harvey out for the season, the Mets have a starting rotation they can win with. They may not have a great chance at catching the Washington Nationals in the NL East (Baseball Prospectus put it at 5 percent as of Monday afternoon), but even if this is just about the wild card, they owed it to themselves to give it a shot.

It's about more than that, of course.

The Mets weren't going to give up on this year, and they certainly weren't going to give up on next year. Finding offense was going to be an issue this winter, too, which is why Mets general manager Sandy Alderson kept emphasizing they have Bruce under control in 2017 (with an affordable $13 million club option).

"We would not have done this deal without an extra year of control," Alderson said.

The extra year means this isn't as much of an all-in move as the Cespedes trade was last year. So does the cost, because even though the Mets liked second baseman Dilson Herrera ("He's a little like Devon Travis," a National League scout said Monday), he's not as exciting as Michael Fulmer, the pitcher they gave up for what could have been two months of Cespedes.

This one was Herrera and 19-year-old left-hander Max Wotell for a year-and-a-half of Bruce. Alderson acknowledged the deal changed at one point Monday (Marc Carig of Newsday reported Brandon Nimmo was taken out of the trade because of medical concerns), but the price wasn't prohibitive for a player who leads the National League with 80 RBI.

"He's been a run producer," Alderson said. "His presence in the middle of the lineup changes things. It wasn't clear to me how long Cespedes was going to get pitches to hit with the rest of the lineup around him."

Some people question the concept of protection in a batting order, but Alderson obviously doesn't. Neither does Collins, who was quick to say Bruce will hit right behind Cespedes.

"I'm telling you, I think he's going to make a huge impact here," Collins said.

Bruce can be an impact guy, as he has shown in eight-plus years with the Reds. He's been an impact guy this season. He's always been streaky, but when he's going good, he's one of the most dangerous hitters in the game.

He also has months like August 2015, when he hit .150 with 29 strikeouts in 113 at-bats.

Bruce is hot right now, with six home runs and 14 RBI in his last seven games. Compare that to the Mets, who as a team have 17 RBI in their last seven games.

"Had we been able to score some runs this week, we'd be in better shape right now," Collins said.

A year ago, the Mets were 28th in baseball in runs scored before the All-Star break. They were third in baseball in runs scored after the break. It wasn't all Cespedes, but there's no question adding him changed their lineup and changed their season.

Can Bruce do the same thing?

For the Mets, it was worth finding out. It was worth trying to fit him into their lineup, even though he's a corner outfielder and the other guys they want to play (Cespedes, Curtis Granderson and Michael Conforto) are also corner outfielders.

Collins will have to figure it out. Maybe Conforto can handle center field. Maybe Cespedes' sore right quadriceps (which kept him out of the lineup again Monday) will heal enough that he can return to center field.

Maybe it works out. Remember, Cespedes wasn't a center fielder when the Mets acquired him a year ago, but he ended up starting there 39 times and 10 more times in the postseason.

It's worth the chance again. Outfield defense could sink the Mets in these final two months, but a lack of offense was the bigger problem they had to solve. Once the Milwaukee Brewers weren't interested in what they had to offer for Jonathan Lucroy, Bruce was by far the best option they could get.

"All we can do is acquire as many good players as we can to maybe have that magic again," Alderson said.

It's not a perfect fit. It's not a perfect deal.

But for a team still good enough to dream, it was a trade worth making.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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