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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Jay Bruce

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As the Bombers look for a left-handed bat, the veteran slugger makes sense if he is willing to take a non-guaranteed contract.

Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals - Game Two Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has repeatedly said that he would like to add another left-handed bat. It’s not a matter of the Bombers having any issues hitting right-handed pitchers with their current personnel; it’s more about having more options and taking advantage of that sweet, sexy right field porch.

There aren’t any perfect matches if we consider age, skill, position, and potential contract. But if he is willing to come on the cheap, perhaps the Yanks can welcome Jay Bruce on a one-year, non-guaranteed deal, namely, a minor-league pact with an invitation to spring training.

Truth be told, Bruce’s market has been slow to develop, and frankly, it’s easy to see why. He is 33, he didn’t have a particularly good 2020, and he is by no means a defensive ace.

I’m not saying that the Yankees should go out there and outbid every team for Bruce’s services. It’s simply worth noting that if the market continues to neglect him, it doesn’t hurt to extend him a spring training invitation to see if he can start the year mashing and contribute from the bench in a part-time role. After all, this is a slugger with over 300 career homers, and while Bruce is on the wrong side of 30, he isn’t ancient.

There’s no getting around the fact that Bruce’s 2020 was not one to remember. In 32 games and 103 plate appearances, he slashed .198/.252/.469 with a .297 wOBA and an 83 wRC+. Back in the more legitimate season of 2019 though, he slashed .216/.261/.523 with a .319 wOBA and a 98 wRC+ in 98 games and 333 plate appearances; league-average, we shall say.

But now, let’s see his 2019 expected stats according to Statcast: a.251 xBA, a .559 xSLG, and a .352 xwOBA. Additionally, he had a very good .450 xwOBAcon (expected wOBA on contact) and a great 43.7 percent hard-hit rate. Those numbers aren’t bad at all.

We shouldn’t completely ignore his 2020 stats. However, I prefer to look at his 2019 larger sample size in this particular case. I repeat: in this scenario, the Yankees wouldn’t be bringing him to be a regular or pay him a hefty sum.

At this point of his career, expecting Bruce to bat more than .250 would be foolish. However, with his kind of power, he could be effective when correctly deployed. That probably means, for a contending team like the Yankees, a start or two per week against right-handers (114 career wRC+ against righties as opposed to 89 vs. lefties) and pinch-hitting duties. That seems quite manageable.

Remember that the Bombers call Yankee Stadium their home, and that venue has a very short right field porch. Bruce took advantage of it as recently as last August, taking Gerrit Cole deep:

Bruce, a left-handed hitter, pulled a career-high 51.4 percent of his balls in play in 2020, and had a 45.8 percent fly-ball rate. With a career 16.7 percent HR/FB rate, he could very well feast in the power department.

Bruce’s pull-heavy, fly-ball approach, combined with his lack of speed, make for a pretty bad combination for his BABIP. In 2019, it was .200, and in 2020, .197. Nonetheless, even with a batting average in the .220-.230 range, he can be a low-key contributor on a part-time role with the Yankees. As Raúl Ibañez proved in 2012, you don’t need to exactly be the next coming of Mickey Mantle to play a productive role as a veteran lefty bat.