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Roster Thoughts After Jay Bruce

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.

40-Man Concerns

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.

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5 Comments

  1. dasit

    it’s going to stink watching gardner play for another team

  2. Wire Fan

    Why do the Yankees need a lefty bench bat?

    Who is Bruce pinch-hitting for? Maybe Higgy late when he plays? Maybe Wade late when he plays? Frazier?

    This fixation on a lefty bat has gotten out of control… When really none of the Yankees regular righty hitters would be PH for. And in terms of the OF I would rather have Tauchman’s or Allen’s glove in the OF over Bruce’s bat and bad OF defense

    I don’t see the value of wasting a roster spot on someone who will occasionally give Voit a day off (especially when DJL could do that) and may once in a while PH when the Yankees are starting their bench players.

    I hope this move is simply insurance in case someone gets hurt in ST. Seems like a near complete waste of a roster spot otherwise.

    • Mungo

      Considering how the Yankees are constructed, they seem to have little obsession with a LH’d bat.

  3. Mungo

    I went through a similar thought process when I read about the signing yesterday. Bruce would represent an upgrade over Ford, so all good, while providing the additional flexibility of playing the OF. You may not want to play him there with any regularity, but the OF remains his primary position, so that immediately makes him more valuable than Ford who is limited defensively to 1B, and a poor defense at 1B at that. Even a fading Bruce offers a better bat with greater position flexibility.

    The issue though is all the Yankees actions indicate they’ve also decided they can’t afford Gardner while upgrading elsewhere. Today’s news that they’re looking to bring back Justin Wilson tells us that they’re not looking to bring Gardner back. Even if they don’t land Wilson, it tells us they’re planning to move beyond Gardner, unless they can somehow land Wilson and Gardner on a combined $4M. I don’t see it happening.

    I will not be happy if they sign both and go over the first competitive balance tax threshold. I’d like both on the team, but the Yankees have restricted all their moves this offseason to get under the threshold. They gifted a reliever and a prospect to the Red Sox, they let Tanaka return to Japan, and they’ve let other better free agents go by this offseason to get under the tax. To suddenly pivot and go back of the threshold all to add a Wilson and/or Gardner will be a major fail. If you’re going over luxury tax, go big for a free agent that will help significantly. You don’t do it to improve on the margins. I don’t believe the Yankees will, which means it looks more and more likely that Gardner’s days are done on the Yankees.

  4. DanGer

    Feels more like a “round out the edges at the deadline” kinda player but there’s really no such thing as a bad minor league deal.

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