Jay Bruce Is Bad, But That Might Not Stop The Jays From Trading For Him

Andrew Stoeten
February 22 2016 05:23PM

Jay Bruce
Photo Credit: Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

Cincinnati Reds outfielder Jay Bruce is more durable than Michael Saunders. I'll give him that. But unless you've got a time machine, that's about all I'll give him without being really, really hopeful, given his being hot garbage over the last two years. Especially if you're asking me to factor in his salary ($12.5-million for this year, plus a $1-million buyout on a $13-million option for next season) when comparing him to the Jays' current in-house options for left field.

And why would you be asking me to do that? Because on Monday night trade heavies Jon Heyman and Ken Rosenthal started tweeting about the Jays making attempts to acquire Bruce in exchange for Michael Saunders -- something I heard from a random emailer two weeks ago (he later told me the particular deal at the time fell apart, but that they were still trying), and discussed at the time on Birds All Day.

We dumped on the idea then, because Bruce is bad. And yet here we are. Or, rather here we are:

I'll wait for the particulars, but I'm officially perplexed over this one. Bruce was worth -0.9 WAR in the second half of 2015 (he hit .199/.242/.402), which was the same amount of value he "produced" in 2014 (he was worth 1.0 WAR in the first half of 2015, it should be noted).

Hey, and lucky us!

Oh, and here's something!

So... they think they can fix him, maybe?

It's not entirely crazy, it's just crazy.

To be fair, though, he's got power, which is hard to come by. Plus he improved his strikeout rate to something resembling almost league average in 2015 (22.3%), and his walk rate generally a little bit above average. In fact, the small bio on his FanGraphs player page suggests that "combining career best contact skills with his ever present power should have yielded better results. Perhaps those will come in 2016."

The thing is, to get excited by that you need to overlook the dumpster fires that have been his last two seasons. Even with the platoon advantage he's been bad, posting a 97 wRC+ against right-handers last year (which is at least OK, I guess), and an 87 the year before that. Hey, and also the defensive metrics don't like him (mostly), as he sports a negative URZ in three of the last four seasons, including the last two. (DRS actually liked him last year, at least.)

In fact, over the last two seasons by URZ, Bruce ranks 11th among the 13 qualified right fielders at -10.3. Jose Bautista is one spot ahead of him at -5.1. By DRS, Bruce (-2) bests Jose (-7), so maybe then let's call it a wash.

As for hitting, over the last two seasons Bruce has slashed .222/.288/.406. Justin Smoak over the same span has put up a line of .215/.288/.410.

Yep, it's Bautista in the field and Smoak at the plate. Plan the goddamned parade, eh?

Of course, that's what he's been, and only over the last two seasons. He's certainly been better than that in his career, he's still only just 28 until April, and he's only costing the club an unreliable asset who isn't under team control for 2017 (Bruce is, albeit for $13-million, if the Jays pick up his option -- if they even actually pull this trade off!), so it's not exactly all doom and gloom. Surely whoever is calling the shots thinks this is a distressed asset ready to shine again and make them look like geniuses, which... maybe???

In a fascinating/terrifying FanGraphs piece from November by Eno Sarris we learn that Bruce himself would tell you that it's a knee injury that's derailed his career so badly -- he had surgery that kept him out of action for just over two weeks in 2014. That's hard to take seriously, though, given that he said he was healthy at the start of last season, and got so much worse as the year wore on. But... maybe?

And maybe we'll see more reason to like it once we know what else -- if anything -- is going the other way. 

If it's just Saunders, and if it's somehow cash neutral, I can buy believing in Bruce's ceiling over Saunders' (despite Saunders' 3 WAR advantage in 2014, his last healthy-ish season), given the big uptick in durability and his (theoretical) potential as a 2017 asset. I could even buy paying a premium to make that switch, I suppose. But not a big one. And certainly not one where the club ends up committing dollars that could have gone to literally anything else that could have helped this club out.

Not knowing the details -- not knowing if it's even going to happen -- makes all that hard to say. What we can say, though, is that Jay Bruce is bad. Or that he was bad in 2014 and 2015, and I'm not sure why anyone would pay more than practically nothing to see if anything is going to change going forward. It's not like it couldn't -- it's not like his power couldn't be an asset at the Rogers Centre or that his possibly improved approach might not pay dividends. Maybe Michael Saunders and a little bit more salary on the books counts as "practically nothing" to the Jays. It's not! But I guess it's close enough to not be too distraught over the possibility of this move. But I think it's worth being just a little bit.

Just when I was getting to like defending Shapiro and Atkins, too!


UPDATE - 9:40 PM ET

It's happening again. After a long period of silence, which had me hopeful this might be falling apart, the rumblings have started again:

UPDATE - 11:55 PM ET

|Hey, so maybe this is still going to fall apart after all. Can't imagine a trade involving Michael Saunders having some kind of hiccup at the "teams reviewing medicals" stage, but here we here:

Well then!

Jeff Passan tweets that it was a player other than Jay Bruce whose medicals have caused the hold up. Jerry Crasnick adds that a source believe that it, specifically, is Saunders' knee that's the issue. Because... of course it is.

But here's the thing: while I didn't agree, I had a lengthy Twitter back-and-forth earlier with someone who would spin Bruce's disastrous last two seasons thusly: in 2014 he was so hampered by his knee injury and his swing was so messed up that you can basically just write it off; then in 2015 he was derailed by catastrophically bad luck -- as evidenced by the fact that he posted just a .251 BABIP, but still produced one of the better rates of hard contact in the league (35.4%, which placed him 30th among 141 qualified hitters).

It's... not implausible .But it sure is just about the most favourable argument for Bruce that I can imagine. Which doesn't mean that it's wrong, it just really explains away a couple of pretty awful seasons from what has never been a high BABIP sort of guy, who is showing signs of decline in other ways too, such as in the field and on the base paths. If they do end up doing the deal, maybe it's something we can desperately cling to. But... um... I like this Buster thing where it's not going to happen a whole lot better!

Aaaaand I may get my wish, because Buster followed up the tweet above with one even more emphatic:

Hoookay then! It sure has been a fun ride here tonight, though, hasn't it?

Stay tuned for more updates (though... probably not until morning at this point, right?)

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Andrew Stoeten, co-creator of Drunk Jays Fans, has written about, podcasted, tweeted, lived and breathed Toronto Blue Jays baseball full time since 2006. He sometimes responds to emails to stoeten@gmail.com. Follow him: @AndrewStoeten.
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#151 Steve-O
February 23 2016, 09:01AM
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El Cabeza wrote:

Expending $10m more in payroll for an outfield version of Justin Smoak minus the defense at the expense of a better cheaper outfielder and a prospect (important enough to scuttle the deal) from a depleted farm system is being 'in it to win it'?

I only hope there's more to this deal that would make it better for the Jays. Otherwise, it's laughable. Hence the term laughingstock.

I like Saunders, but durability is not nothing. And if the Jays don't think Pompey is ready to step in, then it starts to make a lot more sense.

Via @BlueJayHunter

Michael Saunders games missed since 2013: 244 Michael Saunders games played since 2013: 219

Jay Bruce games missed since 2013: 14

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#152 Steve-O
February 23 2016, 09:02AM
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FowlofCanada wrote:

The only good thing is the weird marketing ideas they'll come up with:

Jay Bruce, Blue Jay

https://twitter.com/GideonTurk/status/701987738002845696

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#153 Philbert
February 23 2016, 09:04AM
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El Cabeza wrote:

Expending $10m more in payroll for an outfield version of Justin Smoak minus the defense at the expense of a better cheaper outfielder and a prospect (important enough to scuttle the deal) from a depleted farm system is being 'in it to win it'?

I only hope there's more to this deal that would make it better for the Jays. Otherwise, it's laughable. Hence the term laughingstock.

We didn't even know there was a minor leaguer from the Jays involved until we found out the trade was dead, so I think it's safe to say there probably was more involved.

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#154 J.M.
February 23 2016, 09:12AM
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Philbert wrote:

We didn't even know there was a minor leaguer from the Jays involved until we found out the trade was dead, so I think it's safe to say there probably was more involved.

There had better been. I wonder who it was though? Burns? Berti?

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#155 2damkule
February 23 2016, 09:14AM
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El Cabeza wrote:

Expending $10m more in payroll for an outfield version of Justin Smoak minus the defense at the expense of a better cheaper outfielder and a prospect (important enough to scuttle the deal) from a depleted farm system is being 'in it to win it'?

I only hope there's more to this deal that would make it better for the Jays. Otherwise, it's laughable. Hence the term laughingstock.

the merits of the deal itself aside (and i agree with you in terms of what bruce is), the FO feels the jays need more stability in LF than saunders may be able to provide, and aren't willing to roll the dice with pompey should saunders go down. a willingness to take on $ to (somewhat) solidify a (somewhat) weak position is hardly something that should be scoffed at, IMO.

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#156 DAKINS
February 23 2016, 09:40AM
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So the Jays were asked to throw in a minor leaguer too?

I never thought I'd say this, but thank you Saunders' bad knee!!!

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#157 2damkule
February 23 2016, 10:05AM
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DAKINS wrote:

So the Jays were asked to throw in a minor leaguer too?

I never thought I'd say this, but thank you Saunders' bad knee!!!

reports are that it was the jays' minor leaguer that had the medical concernt, not saunders.

which is probably for the best.

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#158 FowlofCanada
February 23 2016, 10:29AM
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Uh oh, Gallardo deal might have hit a snag in medicals. http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2016/02/possible-snag-in-deal-between-orioles-yovani-gallardo.html

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#159 BlueJayMatt
February 23 2016, 10:54AM
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2damkule wrote:

reports are that it was the jays' minor leaguer that had the medical concernt, not saunders.

which is probably for the best.

Minor leaguer with a medical problem? Does this sound like Pentacost?

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#160 noopi
February 23 2016, 11:10AM
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BlueJayMatt wrote:

Minor leaguer with a medical problem? Does this sound like Pentacost?

No way Pentecost is involved in this deal, unless it inexplicably turns into a much, much bigger deal than it currently is.

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#161 Psmithy
February 23 2016, 11:22AM
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@noopi

Some twitter troll on Rosenthall made a joke that it failed due to jays prospect and suggested Alford.... I don't think the front office values Jay Broce that much lol.

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