Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Somebody tell Howard Eskin, because yes, that Dom Brown. They didn’t even have to trade Jose Bautista to get him! *COUGH*
The former Phillies outfielder, and once-powerful lefty bat — who was once the supposed centrepiece in the aforementioned horseshit Jose Bautista trade rumour (back when the Jerry Howarths of the world were trying to run Bautista out of town) — has agreed to a minor league deal with the Jays that includes an invite to spring training.
I don’t want to overstate what this means for the team, or Michael Saunders in particular, but I think it’s telling that a couple days after trying to complete a trade for a once-good lefty-hitting corner outfielder who has been terrible over the last two years but offers upside and a kind of durability Saunders doesn’t, here they are having found another one.
Granted, Brown is more insurance than straight replacement, and he’s got just one decent (1.9 WAR) season on his resume, compared to Bruce’s 15 WAR over four straight years from 2010 to 2013, aaaaand has somehow been even worse than Bruce over the last two seasons (-2.1 WAR, compared to -0.8 for Bruce — Saunders, over just 87 games, has been worth +1.9).
But he’s also much cheaper, and frankly I probably like this move more given that he doesn’t cost the club anything. The only thing is, there aren’t the same kinds of silver linings on his last two disastrous seasons as you can squint and see for Bruce.
Brown posted a wRC+ of 75 in 2014 and 73 in 2015, with nothing like the kind of power he showed in his strong 2013 season (when he posted a .222 ISO, compared to .114 and .122 the last two seasons). Brown hit seven home runs in 2015 (over 452 PA across three levels), and 10 in 2014, after having blasted 27 the year before.
And whereas Bruce posted a top 50 hard contact rate (among the 352 players with at least 200 plate appearances) in 2015, Brown’s rate of 25.5% placed him in the bottom 90 of that group — and he posted a similarly unimpressive rate in 2014.
Hard contact isn’t everything, but maybe I’m wrong to like this better. If you think you’re not going to get enough out of Bruce, you certainly can’t think you will out of Brown. But at least it’s a layer of depth between Saunders and either having to play Dalton Pompey out of position in left or going with Ezequiel Carrera and Junior Lake.
Y’know, unless Brown is just finished. But the Jays here at least get a chance to try to fix a guy who once looked like he had it figured out, and that’s not nothing. It’s just… it’s also not having a more reliable option for left field than Saunders — a guy who, when he’s healthy enough to be movable, teams keep seem to be wanting to rid themselves of, for some reason. Or at least the Jays do.
But I still really don’t know that they needed to blow $9.6-million on the difference between him and Bruce to avoid having to even start with Saunders pencilled in for a spot. Give him a shot and if he gets hurt, now you might have something in Brown to pick up the slack. And you still have that money if you’re looking to add a piece. It’s not quite that simple, of course — the Jays weren’t going to be able to move Saunders, and his salary in-season if he was on the DL. But in terms of assessing which gamble is the best — and, especially, which give the club the best flexibility going forward — I feel pretty good about where they’ve ended up. Even if it’s not exactly by design.
They could still theoretically try to make a play for Bruce, of course — Brown’s role doesn’t really change with a different guy in front of him — but you wonder if Brown might not have looked elsewhere if he wasn’t getting assurances that it’s Saunders ahead of him. Or… well… guys signing minor league deals don’t likely have the leverage to get assurances of anything, but this is at least a sign that Brown and his agent think as much.
Cool by me.