By RONALD BLUM
AP Baseball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Jay Bruce was surprised by the free-agent market. “The way the offseason kind of went and the slowness of it kind of maybe changed my outlook on it a little bit,” he said Wednesday at a Citi Field news conference.
Bruce returned to the Mets for a $39 million, three-year contract, five months after New York traded the 30-year-old outfielder to Cleveland.
“I think there’s been a sea change in the industry,” Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said. “It’s at least arithmetic in nature if not mathematical, so everybody’s information is roughly the same, which means the assessments of players are probably more uniform today than they ever have been, because they’re predicated not on subjective observation.”
Bruce agreed to the deal last week, and New York finalized the agreement Tuesday after the three-time All-Star passed a physical. His deal was the third-highest among free agents this offseason behind first baseman Carlos Santana’s $60 million contract with Cleveland and close Wade Davis’ $52 million agreement with Colorado, both also for three-year terms. Just 38 of 166 major league free agents have completed agreements, down from 58 of 158 on the same date last year.
“The people who are working within the organizations now are a little more numbers based, a little more statistically driven, and I think they understand that it kind of behooves them to wait,” Bruce said. “There’s a month ’till spring training starts, and there’s really no rush. And I think that a lot of times they feel like they had the leverage and they’re going to utilize that as much as they can. ”
Bruce hit a career-high 36 home runs last year, including 29 for the Mets, and batted .254 with 101 RBIs. He reunites with former Cleveland pitching coach Mickey Callaway, who replaced Terry Collins as Mets manager after the season. Bruce expects the Mets under Callaway to institute some of the Indians’ methods.
“They were very, very adamant about certain things when it came to preparation and recovery and just taking care of yourself in general,” he said. “And I expect Mickey to bring a lot of news ideas and things that make sense for the organization.”
Coming from Beaumont, Texas — with a population of just over 100,000 — Bruce and wife Hannah enjoyed living in midtown Manhattan with their son Carter, who turns 2 in April. She is pregnant with their second child.
“We just had a great experience the whole time, and it was never something that we shied away from,” he said. “It’s exciting to be back.” Acquired from Cincinnati in August 2016, Bruce slumped at first with the Mets but doesn’t think the unfulfilling start was tied to acclimating. “It’s a big stage and I think that you have to embrace it and you have to be here and understand the passion of the fans and the market,” he said.
Bruce figures to start the season in right field while Michael Conforto recovers from surgery Sept. 6 to repair a tear in the posterior capsule in his left shoulder. “There have been no setbacks, but his schedule is such that I don’t expect him back until the first of May,” Alderson said.
Bruce also could see time at first base along with prospect Dominic Smith, Wilmer Flores and Adrian Gonzalez, who agreed to a one-year contract that has not yet been finalized. While maintaining patience, Alderson chose not to wait for a possible further drop in Bruce’s price.
“If we were analogizing the stock market, it’s always nice to buy when it hit rock bottom, but how often do people do that?” Alderson said. New York still seeks a second baseman but thinks it has enough bullpen help. From the time he departed last summer, Bruce was open to a return.
“They said, you know, listen, there could be a reunion and we definitely want to kind of explore those options in the offseason,” Bruce explained. “They wasted no time in getting down to business and showing that they want me back and they wanted to be here and wanted me to be a part of what I can kind of consider some unfinished business as a Met.”
Bruce gets a $3 million signing bonus split into equal payments on Jan. 31 in 2019 and 2020, and salaries of $10 million this year and $13 million in each of the following two seasons. The signing bonus is not taxable in New York, more significant than in the past because of the federal changes eliminating deductions for state and local taxes.
“That was definitely a factor,” he said. “It’s something we paid attention to.”