Yoenis Cespedes and the New York Mets have agreed to terms on a four-year, $110 million contract which will keep the slugger in Queens. Cespedes would have been a great target for the Orioles if they could have afforded him. We all know they never could.
Yet, this sorrow breeds new opportunity. Jay Bruce, whom the Mets acquired this past trading deadline, is now expendable on a Mets roster rife with corner outfielders. The Orioles succeed best at the margins of the player acquisition market and Bruce is the definitive marginal player.
First and foremost, let’s get the formalities out of the way. Bruce, a left-handed hitting right fielder, will be 30 next Opening Day. He has a career batting line of .248/.318/.467. That’s a respectable .785 career OPS and a 109 OPS+. In 2016, between the Reds and the Mets, Bruce posted a .815 OPS and a 112 OPS+.
Most of the 2016 production was put up in his 97 games with the Reds as he only posted a 82 OPS+ with the Mets. His last good season before 2016 was in 2013 when he posted a OPS+ of 120. The next two seasons he was lost in the woods at the plate and struggled to produce before hitting a little bit last season.
Bruce is a decent hitter which the Orioles certainly need more of. It would be better if he made some more contact, but he has a decent walk rate, career 9.1 percent, and has shown some pop. Not the best hitter on the market, but a decent one.
Second, Bruce, as I stated is left handed. He has hit much better against right-handed pitchers in his career posting a .817 OPS against right handed pitching compared to a .711 OPS against left-handed pitching.
The Orioles, as I have managed to bring up in every post for the past six months, struggled against left-handed pitching last season even with a bevy of right-handed hitters. Although the team has stated the need for a left-handed outfielder, I am not sure one truly exists.
Third, Bruce is a terrible defender by all advanced defensive metrics. Two outlier seasons boost his career line, but in 2016 he had a -11 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) if you fancy that measure. According to Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) he was worth -15.2 runs last season.
Either way, he is a bad right fielder and has been bad for some time now. As I have harped on in prior posts, the Orioles really need outfielders who can catch the ball. Bruce is not one of those.
Fourth, Bruce is owed $13 million in 2017 and is due to be a free agent in 2018. That is a hefty price to way for a guy who has posted a 0.9 fWAR last season, a 0.1 fWAR the season before that, and a -0.8 fWAR the season before that one. Furthermore, Bruce is only projected at this point to post a 0.6 fWAR in 2017. Defense matters.
Acquiring all of Bruce’s contract would possibly hamper any other acquisitions the Orioles would make this offseason.
Fifth, and probably most importantly, the price to acquire. Since Bruce is a decent hitter and not much else, the price to acquire will be low, especially with a burdensome 2017 salary. The Orioles, having very little in terms of top tier talent to deal from, are in the market for pieces with low prices. The fit between the teams is certainly there.
In sum, Bruce is an okay hitter that really only hits right handed pitching, cannot play defense all that well, and is owed a decent chunk of change in 2016. Yet, he can be had a low price and be stuck in right field filling one of the Orioles holes with a player who has shown some competency in the past.
Even so, the Orioles should steer clear of Bruce. He does not fit the bill in other areas of need. The Orioles need outfielders that can get to balls and catch them. Otherwise, they should be able to hit left-handed pitching. Bruce does neither and is owed too much money in 2016. While Bruce is available, the Orioles should stay of out the way and let him be someone else’s problem.