Photo Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Through the fall I felt strongly that the Blue Jays would be making a series of decidedly unsexy moves this winter. That they’d look to add quantity, not quality. That the J.A. Happ contract and the Francisco Liriano trade revealed a whole lot about how they operate and what they aim to do.
So far, though there is still a whole lot of off-season left, that seems to be playing out. Kendrys Morales is the J.A. Happ to Edwin Encarnacion’s David Price, it seems. And rather than spend big on the free agent market, it feels like they’d rather add payroll by taking on other team’s bad contracts.
It’s dispiriting. But is it fair?
After taking a couple deep breaths following the latest in a series of rumours that the Jays have interest in Jay Bruce (who has been made a spare part in New York after the Mets’ re-signing of Yoenis Cespedes), I suppose I have to admit that it’s not.
The Jays made an interesting and not-insignificant move in signing Cuban prospect Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (the youngest member of a Cuban baseball dynasty, as Morgan Campbell explained last week in an excellent piece for the Toronto Star). They reportedly made a nearly-competitive offer for Brett Cecil, and one (which I find a little more dubious) to Edwin Encarnacion.
I don’t think they should get marks just for (reportedly) trying, because lord knows we’ve been subject to enough of that over the years.
And as utterly unsexy as a move for Bruce would feel, there actually are things to like about it.
Bruce isn’t a great defender anymore, but having a vacuum like Kevin Pillar in centre helps to mitigate that a little. And despite some poor numbers in the overall last season (especially in the second half; though that was largely due to a brutal August — he rebounded in September), Bruce fared will against right-handed pitching. The lefty batted .262/.326/.546 in the split, which was good for a 124 wRC+ (just barely better than the also-available Curtis Granderson, FYI). Unfortunately, the sample size on those numbers is quite small (just a shade under 100 plate appearances). Still, you can squint and maybe feel somewhat OK about it. Bruce was about a league average hitter against right-handers in 2015, and though he was poor (88 wRC+) the year before, he suffered a knee injury that year that seemed to impact his numbers across the board. And had a 125 wRC+ in the split in 2013.
That’s… not great, but the floor isn’t too low, and there’s some upside there. Especially considering the cost will be close to nothing, the commitment is only for one year, and that they already have a platoon partner for him on the roster in Melvin Upton Jr. (127 wRC+ against LHP over his last two seasons/220 PA, including a 132 mark in 2016).
If the Jays can give up some form of an OK prospect, as they did with Upton, and get the Mets to eat a nice chunk of Bruce’s $13 million salary, then they’ve at least filled one of their major roster holes without spending a shit-tonne. Getting 125 wRC+ and passable defence out of an outfield corner platoon isn’t anything to turn our noses up at, even if it sure doesn’t feel like those guys — especially Upton, after what we saw down the stretch — are actually capable of putting up those kinds of numbers.
If a move like this allows the Jays to make a run at a Dexter Fowler, or a couple of decent relievers, or all of the above, then it’s probably a pretty decent use of their dollars.
And if they don’t follow through on those sorts of moves… Jesus, why bother? Which is maybe reason to remain positive that they will! I just think, at this stage, most Jays fans are going to have to see it before they believe it.