The Mets have notified Bruce they anticipate starting the season with him as their everyday right fielder, an industry source told The Post. General manager Sandy Alderson said two weeks ago that Bruce, after being dangled in trade discussions for much of the offseason, could very well join the team at Tradition Field for spring training, and the team is now acting as if it will have Bruce for the entirety of the season.
The Mets would of course slam the brakes on this plan if a late suitor presented an interesting package, but that appears a long shot. And given all of their health questions, the idea of having the durable Bruce, who has played in 137 or more games every season since 2010, holds additional appeal.
A glacially moving market for hitters foiled the Mets’ original plan to trade Bruce and his $13 million salary in return for a prospect and then use the payroll flexibility to acquire a reliever. None of those dominoes fell into place, meaning the Mets might very well try to go forward with their current bullpen core despite the absence of a veteran left-hander to go after dangerous National League East lefty bats like the Nationals’ Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy and the Braves’ Freddie Freeman.
The retention of Bruce, who turns 30 on April 3 (the Mets’ Opening Day), also has potential consequences for Michael Conforto, the Mets’ top 2014 draft pick who regressed in 2016 after a blazing 2015 debut. Depending on how spring training unfolds, Conforto could be part of the Mets’ outfield mix, or he still has minor-league options available and could get more at-bats at Triple-A Las Vegas.
Another piece of the puzzle to consider: With first baseman Lucas Duda returning from a serious back injury, the Mets figure to try both Bruce and Conforto at first base in Grapefruit League action so they can further assess their options. Bruce played three games at first base for the Reds in 2014. David Wright, with his own back and neck problems, also could wind up in the first-base mix, with Wilmer Flores and Jose Reyes set as insurance pieces for Wright’s spot at third base.