NEW YORK — Jay Bruce and his proven bat are headed back to the New York Mets.
The free-agent outfielder is set to return to the Big Apple after agreeing to a three-year, $39 million contract, according to two people familiar with the negotiations. The people spoke on condition of anonymity Wednesday night because the deal is pending a physical and no announcement had been made.
A three-time All-Star, Bruce hit a combined .254 with 36 home runs and 101 RBI for the Mets and Cleveland Indians last season. After falling out of playoff contention, New York traded him to the AL Central champions Aug. 9 for minor league pitcher Ryder Ryan.
Bruce, who turns 31 on April 3, fills a hole in the outfield and brings back some much-needed power to a Mets team trying to rebound from an injury-ravaged 70-92 season. His return in right field would likely mean Michael Conforto is ticketed for center once he recovers from shoulder surgery.
With slugger Yoenis Cespedes coming off a hamstring injury in left, the Mets plan to have their top three outfielders from last year back intact. They have the potential to form a very productive trio for years to come — if healthy.
Bruce's presence provides some insurance in case Conforto isn't ready at the beginning of the season. Bruce also offers a possible option at first base if touted prospect Dominic Smith struggles again.
The Mets made it clear this winter they were seeking an outfielder who could play first if needed, and Bruce started 10 games there last season for New York.
In a slow-developing market around the majors this offseason, Bruce's deal would be the third-largest given to a free agent so far. First baseman Carlos Santana signed with Philadelphia for $60 million for three years, and closer Wade Davis got $52 million for three years from Colorado.
Mets fans have been clamoring for the team to spend some money to improve the club following its fourth-place finish in the NL East. To this point, New York's biggest move had been the two-year, $14 million contract it gave to free-agent reliever Anthony Swarzak.