The Blue Jays have reportedly re-sparked their interest in Jay Bruce. This is at least the third time in the last year that the Jays have been linked to Bruce. We first saw it prior to the 2016 season, as a trade fell that would’ve left Michael Saunders in Anaheim and had Jay Bruce in Toronto. Of course, that trade fell through due to a failed medical from one of the minor leaguers that were headed to Cincinnati. The Blue Jays reportedly rekindled those trade talks at the midseason deadline, before Bruce ultimately ended up going to the Mets.
Now with the Mets signing Yoenis Cespedes, there’s a surplus of outfielders on their roster. So once again we get ‘Jay to the Jays’ rumours. There’s one problem with this: Jay Bruce is not an okay trade candidate. He isn’t even a bad one. Jay Bruce is a remarkably terrible trade candidate.
In 2017 Jay Bruce is set to earn $13,000,000, which would make him tied for the 6th highest paid player on the Blue Jays (at present). However, by FanGraphs’ Dollars metric he hasn’t been worth his salary any of the last three seasons and it’s unlikely that would change on the Blue Jays.
If acquired, there are three distinct ways in which Toronto could utilize Bruce.
1. A starting corner outfielder
2. A platooning corner outfielder
3. A starting 1B/DH
In theory, Bruce’s big bat is appealing to a team lacking any oomph from a left-hander. In practice, none of the three ascribed situations end with Jay Bruce being a valuable pickup.
Starting Corner Outfielder
Given the Blue Jays’ current lack of corner outfield talent and Jay Bruce’s big money nature, this would seem like the most likely role. This is also the role that Bruce has played in each of the last three seasons. He has hit well while in the outfield and had the 19th best TAv among MLB outfielders. But, he was also the 9th worst defender in baseball. Half that time was at Great American Ballpark, which is smaller in right field.
In essence Jay Bruce as a full time outfielder means another season with a statue (à la Saunders or Bautista) in the corners. With Kevin Pillar in centre, the Blue Jays can get by with a subpar defender, but not one that costs $13,000,000 plus a return. In order to be worth that cost, Jay Bruce would have to hit like Edwin Encarnacion; a height he’s never reached in his career. Using the approximate WAR calculator and Bruce’s 2016 numbers, he’d only be worth about 0.5 to 1.0 WAR in this scenario.
Platooning Corner Outfielder
While Jay Bruce is a good hitter overall, the majority of his production comes versus right-handed pitchers. He’s about 25 percent better against righties than lefties in his career, and was 47 percent better against righties last season. As such, if you take away the plate appearances where Bruce doesn’t perform as well, you can take away some of the negative value that he provides (offensively and defensively). Using the approximate WAR calculator and Bruce’s 2016 numbers, he’d be worth about 1.0 to 1.5 WAR in this scenario. However, then you’re paying $13,000,000 for 60 percent of the plate appearances and you have to pay someone else to fill the other 40 percent.
In theory, pushing Jay Bruce in to a 1B role should mitigate a lot of the negative defensive value that he holds in the outfield. Unfortunately, Bruce has also only played three games at 1B between the majors and the minors. He could probably learn the position because he’s a relatively athletic guy, but the range of potential outcomes is high, and there’s no guarantee that he’s not just as bad there. If you think Jay Bruce is an average defender at 1B, then he’d be worth about 1.5 to 2.0 WAR there. If you don’t, he’s closer to 1 WAR. Again, not good for $13,000,000 plus other assets, even if he reaches the upside of his defensive value. Not to mention the fact that the Jays have already sunk $14,125,000 in to one hitter who can’t really field, and one fielder who can’t really hit.
Trades are a unique animal given that there are generally multiple players involved and different teams could place vastly different values on them. Nevertheless, in a trade you generally want to get some relatively guaranteed value, or you want upside. Given his recent past, Jay Bruce provides neither of these two things. This situation would be different if it was the midseason trade deadline and Bruce were one of the only options on the table. That isn’t the case though; this is the offseason and there’s a plethora of available options.
Matt Joyce, who signed with the Athletics for only two years, $11,000,000, would have been as good or better from a platoon point of view. On a per year basis, the yet-to-be signed Dexter Fowler should only cost $4-5 million more, yet provide twice the value or more. Beyond them there are guys like Brandon Moss, Colby Rasmus, and others. Jay Bruce is not special.
The one major positive that the Blue Jays may be looking at is the fact that Jay Bruce only has one year left on his contract. It’s true some of the guys on the open market may want two years (or more), but those two years may cost less than Bruce’s one (as we saw with Joyce). So, please Mr. Atkins, don’t pine over Jay Bruce. Broaden the horizons and the Jays may even find a player who can play corner outfield defence.
Stranger things have happened.
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