NEW YORK -- Early in the offseason, long before Jay Bruce fit together the puzzle pieces of his free agency, he spoke on the phone with Mickey Callaway. Recently hired as the Mets' manager, Callaway had come to know Bruce during the outfielder's brief tenure in Cleveland late last season. He outlined to Bruce his ideas and expectations for his new role.
If it wasn't the most direct of recruiting pitches, it was nonetheless something Bruce recalled as "a big deal for me" when it came time to make his decision. Reuniting with Callaway was one of the noteworthy factors that went into Bruce's three-year, $39 million signing with the Mets, who made the contract official Wednesday at a news conference at Citi Field.
"They wasted no time in getting down to business and showing that they wanted me back, and they wanted me to be here and wanted me to be a part of what I consider to be some unfinished business here as a Met," Bruce said. "It was something that felt right for me, felt right for my family."
Originally coming to the Mets in a 2016 trade from Cincinnati, Bruce returned to hit 29 home runs with an .841 OPS in 103 games last season. At that point, with the team well out of contention, the Mets dealt Bruce to the Indians for pitching prospect Ryder Ryan.
But general manager Sandy Alderson and his front office never quite forgot about Bruce, keeping in the back of their minds the idea of a return. After the season, they re-established contact. And when Bruce's demands fell from an initial estimate of a five-year deal worth more than $80 million, the Mets struck at what they considered a bargain price. Over the past eight seasons, Bruce has averaged 151 games played and 29 homers.
"One of the reasons Jay plays every day is not because he's durable," Alderson said. "It's because he wants to play every day. And in terms of our team, any team, having someone who wants to be out there every day, and refuses to be out of the lineup, is an important piece."
Beyond the obvious power that Bruce brings to New York's lineup is a fair bit of leadership -- he became a mentor to Michael Conforto last season -- and an openness to the type of analytics the front office values. In particular, the Mets were smitten with the way Bruce worked on his defense last season, developing into an above-average right fielder. And they were happy to see him become one of the poster children for baseball's fly ball revolution, making a conscious effort to increase his average launch angle.
"This is an extremely intelligent player," Alderson said. "He uses everything available to him. As an organization, we talk about being information driven and it's a nice concept. But ultimately that information has to be utilized by the players. I think one of the things that explains Jay's performance from last year is his willingness to adapt -- adapt to new circumstances, adapt to new information. It was really important for our team."
More anecdotally, Bruce has adapted to New York as well. Long gone are the whispers that he cannot handle the city's pressures; to the contrary, Bruce thrived in New York last year, considering the opportunity to live in Manhattan a selling point of returning to the Mets. He is comfortable in a place he feels that he can win.
"There were definitely some other options on the table," Bruce said, "and the Mets kind of came in and made it an easy decision there for me in the end."