Yesterday, the Yankees reportedly inked veteran Jay Bruce to a minor league contract with an invitation to Major League Spring Training. Let’s talk abou the roster implications.
Before getting into that, I’ll say I like the move. Jay Bruce has been a personal favorite for a long time. I remember seeing him in 2008 when the Reds visited Yankee Stadium for an interleague series having heard all the hype about him. His career has been solid and it’s hard not to like this as a minor league deal, even if his fielding days are long gone. Onto the thoughts…
Bruce vs. Gardner vs. Tauchman vs. Allen vs. Ford
An early thought on Yankee minds when the news broke of the Bruce signing was “How does this affect Brett Gardner?” Given that this is a minor league deal and Gardner is likely to get a major league deal, my first thought was that it wouldn’t affect Gardner too much.
Gardner still has an advantage over Bruce in that he can actually play the outfield. And even though Greg Allen or Mike Tauchman are still around, they’re downgrades compared to Gardner. They may have steps on him in the outfield at this point, but Gardner is no slouch and can actually hit.
Bruce also doesn’t seem like a threat to Gardner or the outfielders currently on the roster. No one in their right minds would have Jay Bruce in 2021 as a backup outfielder expected to actually play out there in non-emergency situations. The one whose spot he’s likely to take is Mike Ford’s. Bruce has had some time at first base and is much more accomplished than Ford; his story in making the ML roster last Opening Day was great, but the results aren’t there and the upside is limited. Bruce is the better option.
But the more I think about it, the more I wonder if this does mean Gardner is gone. If you want to squeeze him and Bruce onto the roster–which I’m fine with–that would mean getting rid of both Tauchman and Allen, who are both option-less. The Yankees seem to love Tacuhman and valued Allen enough that they traded an actual player for him. Given those apparent realities, they might not be so willing to make room for a veteran like Gardner, who’ll push their luxury tax line to its absolute limit. It’s possible that the gap between Tauchman/Allen and Gardner isn’t that wide when it comes to a back up role. Of course, I think I’d rather Gardner step in in case of an injury than either Tauchman or Allen. But with the Yankees penchant for cost control, this may be the end of the line for Gardner.
If it is (and the Yankees make no other moves), the bench will likely be Kyle Higashioka, Tyler Wade, Jay Bruce, and Tauchman/Allen. Gardner instead of the last two probably makes the bench a touch better, but is that gonna happen? It’s looking increasingly less likely.
Maybe a reliever instead?
According to this by Ken Rosenthal, it appears the Yankees are looking to reunite with lefty Justin Wilson. When keeping the luxury tax stuff in mind, it’s presumable that signing a reliever would definitely seal the deal on Gardner’s exit. With the Yankees still looking to the fill the Tommy Kahnle sized hole in their bullpen, this move might make more sense and have more impact than bringing back Gardner.
After the Darren O’Day signing, the Yankees have a full roster. Signing Wilson would require a 40-man move right away. Presumably they’d shed another pitcher and I assume it’d be Albert Abreu. He’s out of options and has done little to prove himself. His arm is strong, though, so maybe there’s a trade out there.
Even though I’ve already penciled in Bruce to a bench spot, his deal means the Yankees can wait till the end of Spring Training to make the necessary 40 man move, if they do, indeed, add him.
This move may create some difficult questions for the Yankees, but it’s worth it. Bruce fills the role of left-handed masher off the bench (even in a down year, he had a 109 wRC+ against RHP and a .321 ISO) as well a backup first baseman and emergency outfielder. This is a low-risk signing that could reap big returns.