Bruce addition could kick-start Mets' push in '18

Team has other questions, but adding slugger was a key move

January 11th, 2018

Terry Francona is sure of one thing: The Mets have themselves a great manager. They also just might be on their way to building a strong enough team to get back into the postseason after being one of baseball's biggest disappointments last year.

Francona called Mickey Callaway "a superstar'' in an appearance on MLB Network on Wednesday. Later in the day, the Mets, according to a source, agreed to a three-year deal with , giving the former Indians pitching coach a better shot at making a good impression as a manager.

Whether Bruce plays mostly right field or first base, the 30-year-old Texan adds a second proven bat in the middle of a lineup that relies heavily on . Consider this a running start toward a group that could get the attention of the National League's Wild Card hopefuls, if not the powerful Nationals.

Five ways for Mets' fans to celebrate Bruce's return

There's more work to be done. The Mets have to get healthy from surgery on his left shoulder -- he led the team's position players in WAR last season -- and probably still need to upgrade at catcher or add a run-producer at third base.

Hello, . The Mets seem like a perfect landing spot for the Jersey boy.

Frazier would allow the Mets to shift to second base and return to a utility role. The middle of the lineup could have the left-handed-hitting Bruce and Conforto bracketed by Cespedes and Frazier.

That's a strong look for a team that was ninth in the NL in scoring last season while hitting 224 home runs, tied for the most in the league. The Mets were 11th in on-base percentage.

While Frazier hit only .213 between the White Sox and Yankees, he set career highs with walks (83) and on-base percentage (.344). He would be embraced by fans in Queens, just like he was in the Bronx after the Trade Deadline acquisition.

But enough about the bird in the bush. It's the Bruce signing that should awaken any Mets fans who wondered if the promotion of shortstop and first baseman last August was the beginning of a rebuilding period.

You don't rebuild when you've got studs like and in their prime. This isn't the team that blew away the Cubs in the 2015 NL Championship Series, but there's a best-case scenario out there in which the Mets could be this year's version of the 2017 D-backs, who leaped from 69 wins in '16 to 93 last season.

Where to start with the ifs?

How about if Syndergaard has fully recovered from his strained lat and can join deGrom in delivering a performance worthy of consideration for a spot on the NL Cy Young Award ballot?

If Cespedes can avoid a repeat of the foot and leg injuries that bedeviled him last season?

If Callaway and his pitching coaches, Dave Eiland and Ricky Bones (bullpen coach), can find a way to fix Matt Harvey?

If Rosario and Smith can experience relatively instant success in the big roles they've been put in as 22-year-olds.

Rosario was solid defensively in his 46-game trial last year and flashed a good bat, but he walked only once every 57 plate appearances. Smith hit nine homers in his 167 at-bats, but he didn't look like the polished hitter who had batted .330 (with a .386 OBP) in Triple-A.

Both the Mets' front office and Callaway know well what they're getting with Bruce. He was traded by the Mets to the Indians last August after spending most of his career with the Reds. Bruce is no longer the cannon-armed right fielder who shuts down opposing baserunners, but he is solid in right and willing to help out at first, where he started 10 times for the Mets last season.

Bruce's versatility could be important as the Mets monitor Smith's development and try to find work for , the 2011 first-round Draft pick who played well in a limited role last season.

Hot Stove Tracker

Because Bruce was only 21 when he stepped into Cincinnati's lineup, it feels like he's been around forever. But he's only entering his age-31 season. Bruce may not quite duplicate the 95-homer, 287-RBI performance he had from 2015-17, but he seems like a solid play on a three-year deal.

Given the knee problems that contributed to a downturn for Bruce in 2014 and '15, he could put up bigger numbers the next three years than the last three.

Bruce's 115 OPS+ last season between the Mets and the Indians was his best since 2013; his .832 OPS was his best since 2012. This is a good addition for the Mets. One or two more -- and a handful of ifs that translate to reality -- and they could be right back in business.