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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Jay Bruce

Signing Bruce means more dingers, but does it make sense?

MLB: ALDS-Cleveland Indians at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

After being traded twice in the past two seasons, Jay Bruce is a free agent and looking for a new team. The Yankees already have the most powerful lineup in the league and adding Bruce would only widen that gap. He has stayed healthy throughout his entire career, could possibly play three positions, and his left-handed power would be a huge asset in Yankee stadium. That could also help offset all the right-handed power already in the lineup.

It’s extremely difficult, however, to see where Bruce fits. Before the Giancarlo Stanton trade, finding playing time for Bruce would have been difficult. Now it borders on impossible.

With a lefty swing and a good amount of power, Bruce is a presence at the plate. That said, he never quite turned into the superstar many thought he could be. Still, Bruce has been a been a consistently good starter in the majors for nine seasons. He broke into the majors in 2008 for the Cincinnati Reds and quickly became one of the anchors of the lineup, alongside Joey Votto and Todd Frazier.

After the 2010 season, the Reds inked Bruce to a team-friendly seven-year, $64 million-dollar extension. He repaid them with back-to-back All-Star seasons in 2011 and 2012, but things didn’t really last. After a 97-win season in 2012, the 2013 Reds regressed to just 90 wins and missed the playoffs. They haven’t been back since. Comfortably in the basement of the NL Central in 2016, the Reds decided to move Bruce, who hit 25 homers with a 126 OPS+ in the first half of that season.

Armed with a partial no-trade clause that included the Yankees, the Reds were able to move Bruce to the Mets, but his time in Queens was up-and-down. He struggled mightily at the plate during the latter half of the 2016 season. His offense fell tremendously, and he only had eight homers during the second half of that season. The struggles did not prevent the Mets from picking up Bruce’s relatively cheap $13 million-dollar option for the 2017 season.

It became clear early last season that the Mets were not going to be in the hunt for a playoff spot, and Bruce represented one of the more movable contracts they had on the books. The Yankees attempted to trade for him but the deal fell through. According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees offered the Mets multiple prospects but wanted the Mets to retain some of Bruce’s salary, about $3.7 million.

It would seem the deal hinged completely on the latter point. Neither the Mets nor the Yankees wanted to take on Bruce’s full salary and it likely kept the Yankees from acquiring him. Ultimately, Cleveland won the Bruce sweepstakes because they offered a low-level prospect and took on his entire remaining salary.

In the ALDS, Yankees fans got a firsthand look at the kind of damage Bruce can do. In Game One, he led the Cleveland offense to victory, going two-for-three with three RBI, a double, and a home run. Although he was not quite as productive in the following game, Bruce still hit the game-tying homer off of David Robertson in the eighth inning. While his team failed to win any of the following three games, he still put up a solid stat line for the series. He hit .278/.333/.667/1.000 in the five-game series and was easily one of the best offensive performers on either team.

In a vacuum, Bruce could be a valuable piece on any Yankee team. He’s a power lefty whose offensive profile would transition seamlessly into Yankee Stadium. Thirty home runs a year would likely be an easy feat if he donned the pinstripes, especially since he’s almost never missed extensive time with injury. Only in 2014 has Bruce missed significant time since becoming a big league regular.

Moreover, Bruce could theoretically play three different positions. He’s a career right fielder but first base could be more of a possibility as he continues to age. Bruce could also serve as a DH. The only problem with this is that things don’t happen in vacuums, and the Yankees have arguably more talented players in all the roles Bruce could theoretically fill.

Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton have right field and designated hitter locked down, and a healthy Greg Bird looks poised to build off the successes he found late last season. As the Yankees’ roster currently sits, there’s just no room for Bruce. Adding him would undoubtedly increase the number of dingers leaving the yard next year, but it’s definitely best if the Yankees used their resources on a different type of player.