NEW YORK — One year later, the New York Mets finally landed All-Star outfielder Jay Bruce to boost a struggling lineup. And now, he’ll provide protection for Yoenis Cespedes rather than an alternative to him.
Minutes before Monday’s trade deadline, the third-place Mets obtained Bruce from the Cincinnati Reds for young infielder Dilson Herrera and minor league left-hander Max Wotell.
The 29-year-old Bruce, expected to arrive Tuesday, was hitting .265 with 25 homers and a National League-leading 80 RBIs. He made the NL All-Star team this season for the third time.
"This was an opportunity to deal from a position of relative strength in the system to acquire some offence that we felt we needed," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said.
New York also pursued All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy, traded by Milwaukee to Texas instead. But the Mets did complete an additional deal, reacquiring left-hander Jon Niese from Pittsburgh for reliever Antonio Bastardo.
Niese will work out of the bullpen at first but also gives the Mets an experienced starter who could fill in for a rotation missing injured Matt Harvey and rehabbing Zack Wheeler.
The moves follow last year’s trade-deadline acquisition of Cespedes, whose offensive spark helped the Mets reach the World Series for the first time since 2000.
Before getting Cespedes from Detroit for pitcher Michael Fulmer, the Mets nearly finalized a deal with Cincinnati for Bruce. When talks fell through, New York soon turned its attention to Cespedes.
"Look, it was an extraordinary turnaround last year. All we can do is try to acquire as many good players as we can to put ourselves in a position to maybe have that magic again," Alderson said. "I do think, given our situation right now and the quality of players we have right now otherwise in the clubhouse, somebody like Jay Bruce can be a catalyst for more productive performance out of the other players that we have, especially sitting in the middle of our order."
The banged-up Mets began the day with a .237 batting average, lowest in the majors. They lost to the Yankees 6-5 in 10 innings Monday night and dropped to 54-51, leaving them 7 1/2 games behind NL East-leading Washington and 2 1/2 games back for the league’s second wild card.
Bruce has been a clutch hitter this season, and New York is in dire need of one. Dreadful with runners in scoring position, the Mets started the day ranked 13th out of 15 NL teams in runs.
"I think he’ll make a big impact," manager Terry Collins said.
Bruce’s dangerous left-handed bat should slot in nicely behind Cespedes — when the right-handed slugger is healthy enough to play. Hampered by a strained right quadriceps that’s been nagging him for weeks, Cespedes sat out Monday night for the second consecutive game.
Bruce joins a crowded outfield that includes two other left-handed hitters in Curtis Granderson and Michael Conforto. Alderson acknowledged that Bruce is "not an absolute perfect fit for us."
"We start with the need for offence and work from there," the GM said. "I think his presence in the middle of our lineup will change things."
Bruce, however, is under team control next season and thus provides another type of protection for Cespedes, because the Cuban star can opt out of his contract and become a free agent again after this year’s World Series.
"We would not have done the deal without the extra year of control," Alderson said. "We were not looking for a rental player, certainly not looking to give up the kind of talent we did for the next two months."
Bruce homered in five straight games in late July, a career best. A downside has been his career-long penchant for following a torrid streak with an incredibly cold one.
Bruce has a .249 career average with 233 homers in nine major league seasons. He is earning $12.5 million this year, and his contract includes a $13 million team option for 2017 with a $1 million buyout.
"It definitely shows that they’re doing everything they can to help us," Mets second baseman Neil Walker said.
New York clinched the NL East title in Cincinnati last September and returns for a three-game series from Sept. 5-7.
Cincinnati is into its second year of rebuilding, trading any high-priced veteran it can. The Reds dealt starters Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake, third baseman Todd Frazier and closer Aroldis Chapman in the past year.
They tried to trade second baseman Brandon Phillips to the Nationals, but he blocked the deal. They also had the framework of a three-team deal in place that would’ve sent Bruce to Toronto in the off-season, but that fell through.
Herrera, 22, was once regarded as the Mets’ future second baseman. He made his major league debut in 2014 and hit .215 over 49 big league games in the ’14 and ’15 seasons. He was batting .276 with 13 homers and 55 RBIs this year at Triple-A Las Vegas.
"We liked Dilson very much," Alderson said. "It’s not that our estimation of Dilson has gone down; we realize we have some other options and seem to be well-covered there."
Traded from the Mets to Pittsburgh last December for Walker, Niese struggled during his time with the Pirates. He went 8-6 with a 4.91 ERA and was moved to the bullpen earlier this month.
The 29-year-old Niese is making $9 million in the final season of a deal he signed with the Mets in March 2012, a contract that includes a $10 million team option for 2017 with a $500,000 buyout. He made some critical comments about New York’s defence after joining the Pirates.
"I think there will be some things that will be addressed," Collins said. "There’s still some guys that are still here that were here last year."
Bastardo, who went 4-1 with a 2.98 ERA in 2015 with Pittsburgh, posted a 4.74 ERA in 41 appearances for the Mets. The left-hander agreed to a $12 million, two-year deal with New York in January and is owed $6.5 million in 2017.