Jay Bruce continues to show value as a left-handed power bat in the Yankees lineup. But a March 25 deadline looms to seal the contract.
Jay Bruce is looking to play his fourteenth season in the major leagues. Better than most but never reaching the elite in baseball, Jay Bruce is still seeking a World Series ring after four tries with three different teams.
What better place to be (then) than with the New York Yankees?
In almost any other year, the Yankees would automatically welcome his left-handed power bat (318 career home runs) into the ease and comfort of the right-field porch at Yankee Stadium.
Jay Bruce: Squeezing His Way Onto A Crowded Yankees Roster
Alas, this is not a typical year for the Yankees as they make their way through Spring Training with only one spot open on their roster for position players.
By default or merit, fourth outfielder and clubhouse leader Brett Gardner has the title to one spot, catcher Gary Sanchez‘s caddie Kyle Higashioka another, and manager Aaron Boone‘s versatile pet off-the-bench player Tyler Wade the third spot.
Depth beyond depth, the Yankees face choosing between Miguel Andujar, Thairo Estrada, Mike Ford, Mike Tauchman, and Estevan Florial – all 40-man rostered players – before they even reach those like Jay Bruce who, if retained by the Yankees will count as $1,350,000 towards an already strained team payroll.
Tightening the web, even more, is a date (March 25) when the Yankees are obligated to choose Jay Bruce by signing him or releasing Bruce to sign with another team.
At face value, Jay Bruce is one of those “flyers” general managers often engage in with aging but still productive players – lightning in a bottle, it’s sometimes called.
No dummy after all these years, though, Jay Bruce ensured he was protected by the team-controlled March 25 opt-out date.
Realizing there’s no time to spare, this is Jay Bruce before today’s exhibition game against the Phillies:
Mirror, Mirror On The Wall…
A small sample for sure, but it’s enough for the Yankees to take notice, especially when the competition appears to be wilting – Mike Ford (.188, one extra-base hit), Mike Tauchman (.167, one extra-base hit), Thairo Estrada (.222, no extra-base hits), and newcomer Derek Dietrich (.125, one extra-base hit).
Mike Tauchman is a particular thorn in the Yankees’ decision-making process because he is out of options and subject to passing through waivers (unlikely) and being claimed by another team. The Yankees’ final option is to trade Tauchman before that happens.
Jay Bruce can play a bit of first base (54 games over his career), but his primary position is in right field, where he shines with the second-most assists of any active right-fielder. An obvious choice for Aaron Boone is to install Bruce as the DH, but there are any number of needy (Giancarlo Stanton) and potentially useful players to fill that role.
Again, if this were a typical Yankee season in which revenues are still expected to be impacted by COVID-19, $1.3 million would stand as the mere cost of MRIs for Stanton and Aaron Judge. But this year, Hal Steinbrenner insists the team stays under the $210 million luxury tax limit imposed by MLB.
Jay Bruce clears one hurdle over all of his competition, though. As a lefty bat off the bench in a situation with the Yankees down by two and two runners on, who best but for Aaron Boone to find Bruce on his bench as a pinch-hitter.
Moreover, at only 34, who’s to say that if Aaron Hicks, Stanton, and Judge go their usual ways, the Yankees will need (both) Bruce and Gardner to man the outfield?
For What It’s Worth, Jay Bruce Gets The Call
This is the fun stuff that Spring Training brings to all of us as fans. Armchair general managers with the luxury of having no personal consequence make for drama even when none exists.
But in the case of Jay Bruce, this is a player who will help some team in the major leagues this year, probably in the American League, unless Rob Manfred gives into the call for a DH in the National League.
Except for Mike Tauchman, all of Bruce’s competitors can be deposited at Triple-A Scranton subject to recall in the event of injuries (think Andujar for a fallen Gio Urshela or Mike Ford for a once-again foot injury to Luke Voit).
Today, the ball bounced the other way for Bruce in a contest against the Phillies. He went 0-2 with one base-on-balls.
But there is no question that Jay Bruce has the mentality of a seasoned pro as he winds his way through the remaining days of Spring Training:
It’s now T-Minus fourteen days and counting for the Yankees to decide…ya gotta love it.
We can end with this clip of Jay Bruce talking about this new opportunity and a reunion with Corey Kluber: