MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Bruce presents Mets with outfield dilemma

Bruce presents Mets with outfield dilemma

NEW YORK -- Jay Bruce arrived at Citi Field in fine form on Tuesday night. Wearing No. 19, he went 0-for-4 and started in right field during the Mets' 7-1 victory against the archrival Yankees that continues the next two nights at Yankee Stadium.

That was the easy part.

The presence of the lefty-swinging power hitter with 25 homers and 80 RBIs thus far this season for the Reds will certainly make the Mets a much better offensive team. But Bruce's arrival has already shuffled the starting outfield alignment of the defending National League champs.

And that part of it is not so easy.

"As people will comment, it's not an absolute perfect fit for us," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said about the acquisition of Bruce in a three-player deal that sent prospects Dilson Herrera and Max Wotell to the Reds. "You start with a need for offense and then you go from there."

It's now the job of Mets manager Terry Collins to juggle his outfielders, particularly Curtis Granderson, the incumbent right fielder who has played 18 games in center field since signing with the Mets as a free agent on Dec. 9, 2013.

It's really very tough in the non-designated hitter league, and Granderson is seemingly a man without a position. Yoenis Cespedes, who hit a pinch-hit RBI single in the seventh after starting the game on the bench for a third straight day with a sore right quad, is also not fond of playing center.

On Tuesday night, Collins started Alejandro De Aza up the middle, rewarding the manager when he hit a two-run third-inning homer off Masahiro Tanaka. But De Aza isn't a regular fit. Neither is Cespedes, Bruce or Granderson.

"We're asking now for three guys to play a position they're not comfortable playing," Collins said.

Early on in his career, Granderson was the starting center fielder for the Tigers and Yanks, playing far more games out there than in right. Overall in his 13-year career, he's started 1,076 games in center and just 371 in right. But Granderson is 35 now, and those days seem long behind him.

Cespedes has started 100 games in center for the Mets since the 2015 non-waiver Trade Deadline deal brought him to New York from Detroit. But his preferred position is left, where he's started 406 games in his five-year career, as opposed to 165 games in center.

Bruce has started just 35 games in center and none since his rookie 2008 season with Cincinnati. Despite that fact, Bruce told Collins he'll play anywhere the manager wants when the two met for the first time hours before Tuesday night's game.

"He asked me if I played any center, and I told him that I had," Bruce said. "But it sounds like the plan is for me to play a lot of right field. I told him I'd be more than willing and happy to play anywhere he needed me. I don't think there's a clear-cut center fielder on the team. I'm ready for wherever he puts me. I'm ready for anything."

Collins listened to Bruce and decided not to take him up on the offer. Not yet, anyway.

"I'm going to put him in right field for right now," Collins said. "I'm scheduled to talk to Grandy in a little while about moving him in the outfield situation. [Bruce] told me he hasn't played center field since 2008, so that's quite a while.

"A lot of this is about [Cespedes'] availability. We're still trying to figure out what path to take as we get down the road a little bit. Health is going to be a big thing for all of them. The one thing we know about Grandy is that center field is going to tax him a lot, too."

As far as health is concerned, Juan Lagares, their most proficient center fielder, is on the disabled list with a partially torn ligament in his left thumb. He had surgery on Monday and is out for at least six weeks.

Cespedes has been nursing the sore quad since just before the All-Star Game presented by MasterCard and missed the game in San Diego last month despite fans voting him into the starting NL lineup. He missed four games and exited most recently again with the same injury this past Saturday night during a home game against the Rockies.

The Mets have their next five games in American League parks beginning Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium and continuing with a three-game weekend series against the Tigers in Detroit.

Collins said he plans to use Cespedes as the DH in all five games. Collins will also find a spot in the Bronx for Granderson, whose left-handed swing is a natural for the short right-field porch at the Stadium, where he's hit 67 of his 279 career home runs.

Collins said he's hoping that Cespedes will be ready to play the outfield by the time the Mets return to Citi Field for a six-game homestand against the D-backs and Padres, beginning next Tuesday night. He isn't sure.

But Collins was pretty sure Cespedes wouldn't have been ready to play the next five days save for the DH.

"To be honest, he could go out there," Collins said. "Could he aggravate it? Maybe. And if he aggravates it more, we're looking at three or four weeks. I'm not going to do that."

It's an interesting dilemma for the Mets, and one well worth watching.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.