Jay Bruce is another in a long line of veterans the New York Yankees have been known to pick up towards the end of their careers. Last week, New York signed Bruce to a minor league contract. The deal is worth $1.35 million, if he makes the major league roster, that comes with incentives based on plate appearances. Bruce is going into his age-34 season, and while he is past his prime, he can still be a productive player. The Yankees have been known to pick up declining veterans that are past their primes. However, Bruce can have a major impact on this team.
The Career of Jay Bruce
There have been nearly 20,000 major league baseball players throughout history. Only 151 of them have accumulated 300 career home runs. Jay Bruce is one of those players as his 318 home runs rank 124th all-time. These numbers really put Bruce’s career in perspective. He was drafted 12th overall by the Cincinnati Reds in the the historically great 2005 draft class. In looking at his career 19.8 WAR and batting line of .245/.314/.469, .783 OPS and 108 OPS+, they are not anything special, yet still good. Within this are five 30+ home run seasons, three all-star nods, two Silver Slugger Awards, and two top-10 finishes in MVP voting. Of his 13 seasons, the first nine were spent with the Reds.
Bruce has consistently displayed 30-home run power while posting modest walk rates and below-average strikeout rates. The best stretch of his career came between 2010 and 2013. During this four-year stretch, he averaged 30 HR, 94 RBI, and 3.6 bWAR to go along with a .262/.337/.489 batting line. That amounts to a .826 OPS and 121 OPS+. In all, Bruce’s career achievements do not amount to a Hall of Fame career, but they portray a very successful career. Despite not having as great a career as others in his draft class, it’s hard to argue that he did not live up to his first-round pedigree.
Since being traded by the Reds at the trade deadline in 2016, Bruce has played for the New York Mets, Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners, and Philadelphia Phillies. Despite primarily playing right field for the Reds, he has also played first base and DH in the last few years. His best year since the trade was 2017. He hit 36 home runs, drove in 101 runs, and posted a .508 SLG and .832 OPS that year. 2017 was also his last full healthy year and productive year, and he has only played in a combined 224 games since the start of 2018.
Bruce played 32 games for the Phillies in 2020, starting 24 of them. In these starts, 14 were in the outfield, 10 at DH, and two at first base. Despite posting a lowly .198 BA and 88 OPS+ in 2020, Bruce still posted a respectable .469 SLG. In fact, he hit 26 home runs and a .523 SLG in 98 games in 2019. What this says is that there is still something left in Jay Bruce’s bat. Even if he is not the same hitter he used to be, he can still be a productive player.
How Jay Bruce Fits in With the Yankees
Bruce has never been a great defender but the fact that he has experience playing multiple positions in recent seasons makes him more valuable for New York. The Yankees love versatile players and Bruce fits that mold. His signing was clearly an insurance move in case of injury. However, Bruce can be so much more than that. Assuming he makes the major league roster, Bruce is an ideal fit for a bench spot even if there are no major injuries on the roster. In being able to play both the outfield and first base, he can slot into one of those spots once or twice a week. In this case, there is no real reason to have Mike Ford on the bench over Bruce.
Mike Ford’s role with the Yankees has been that of a backup first baseman and occasional pinch hitter. However, Bruce has a longer track record of success and the flexibility that the Yankees tend to favor. If there is a major injury, Bruce is the type of legitimate big league hitter who is more than capable of playing a big role. Think about the 2018 season when Aaron Judge was out for nearly two months with a broken wrist. Shane Robinson was a player who picked up a lot of playing time in right field. In 2019, the Yankees used infielders like Thairo Estrada or Tyler Wade in the outfield. Regardless of the defense, Bruce will provide a more steady presence at the plate than other possible injury replacements.
Spring Training Battle
Jay Bruce is a realistic bench option, even if there are no major injuries to the team. He is a left-handed power bat who can take aim at the short porch in right field. Considering he only makes $1.35 million if on the big league roster, he is a cheap option who can easily outperform that contract. It will be interesting to see how spring training plays out. The Yankees signed other experienced players to minor league deals. Not to mention, Bruce might be battling with Greg Allen or Mike Ford to win a bench spot this spring. The Yankees know what they are getting in this signing. Jay Bruce is a great pickup for the Yankees because he can play an important role, whether as insurance or as a bench piece for a full 162-games.
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