The Cleveland Indians proved how serious they are about getting back to the World Series following a trade with the New York Mets for outfielder Jay Bruce.
Bruce, who will be a free agent at season’s end, turned 30 this year and is batting .256 with 29 home runs and 75 RBI. He will slot in as the team’s everyday right fielder while also taking advantage of the DH spot occasionally.
Bruce will add pop to the lineup, but he will not make much of a difference for Cleveland down the stretch.
The Tribe needs outfielders!
Adding a bat at this stage of the game is an interesting move by Cleveland, who holds a four-game lead over the Kansas City Royals in the AL Central Division. This is a team whose strong pitching, particularly out of the bullpen, was its bread and butter in the postseason last year. Team management already added a power hitter in Edwin Encarnacion last offseason, so why add another bat right now?
Well, there are a few reasons. The first one is that top reliever Andrew Miller is out with knee tendinitis and though he claims to be feeling better, a timetable for his return has yet to be established. Miller has been dominant to the tune of a 1.67 ERA over 46 appearances this year, so his absence means that Cleveland needs more offense to help bring home the wins.
The Tribe just lost one of their starting outfielders in Michael Brantley to a sprained ankle earlier this week. Lonnie Chisenhall has also been out with a calf injury for the past month. That leaves Cleveland with an outfield of rookie Bradley Zimmer, Brandon Guyer, and Abraham Almonte. Veteran Austin Jackson is also available as a reserve.
This is the reason Bruce was acquired. Guyer has been a reserve for most of his career and, though his bat has pop against left-handed pitching, doesn’t have the consistency at the plate to be a true difference maker. The same can be said for Jackson, whose productivity has dropped off after four good years with the Detroit Tigers. Almonte is 28 and has never played in more than 82 games in a season.
Thus, while the main guys heal, Bruce can enter the lineup and capitalize on an already strong season to inject momentum into a Cleveland offense that ranks 11th in runs scored and eighth in batting average. Those rankings aren’t bad, but a boost would be welcome.
The Jay Bruce reality
Though Bruce could be a valuable bat in Cleveland, the honeymoon could well be short-lived. His fielding in the outfield is a little better this year, having eight defensive runs saved compared to -11 last year, but Bruce is still far from an elite defensive outfielder.
Bruce also posted a 2.5 WAR with the Mets this year and though that number isn’t terrible, he has never been an elite player in that department. He owns a career WAR of just 18.5 in 10 seasons and has been a four-win player just twice, in 2010 and 2013. That could just be from playing on some bad Cincinnati Reds teams, but it goes to show that Bruce isn’t that much of a difference maker.
Also, Bruce didn’t play so well the last time he was traded. After the Mets acquired him last year, he hit just .219 with eight home runs and 19 RBI. That could have just been a fluke, and he has played well this year, but who’s to say it won’t happen again?
Finally, we come to the elephant in the room that is Cleveland’s crowded outfield. Sure, there’s a spot for Bruce now, but what happens when Brantley and Chisenhall come back? Chisenhall could wind up being benched, but what if Bruce’s numbers aren’t blowing anyone away? A move to DH is out of the question since Encarnacion has that spot locked down, so this trade has just as much potential to blow up in Cleveland’s face as it does to help the team.
As nice as having Jay Bruce in a Cleveland Indians uniform might be, he’s a band-aid solution to immediate injury problems and comes with a $4 million price tag. It would have been better for Indians management to give Tyler Naquin another opportunity as he has hit .320 across 56 minor league games this year after finishing third in AL Rookie of the Year voting last year.
The AL Central race hasn’t reached a point where the Indians need to boost their performance. A four-game lead isn’t huge, but still fairly comfortable given how Kansas City has lost three straight and is 2-8 in its last 10 games.
That said, it’s looking like Cleveland just added Jay Bruce due to panic over Brantley’s injury. Hopefully, this doesn’t turn out to be the wrong move as the team looks to return to the Fall Classic.
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