Why Jay Bruce might be what the Orioles need

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I’m reminded of the Rolling Stones song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” when I think of the failed Fowler pursuit by the Orioles.

“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you just might find
You get what you need”

The Orioles wanted Fowler to play RF for them, badly enough to give up their compensation pick that they got for losing pitcher Wei-Yin Chen, in spite of their farm system being ranked among MLB’s  worst.  They didn’t get him as he signed a 1 year deal with an option with the Chicago Cubs, so they still have a need for another RFer.

Looking at the free agent market, there isn’t a whole lot there.  There’s been some chatter about Austin Jackson, but he has only 22 games in RF with only  6 starts, and they all came last season when he was traded to the Cubs.  Like Fowler, his arm strength is also questionable.

That leaves the trade market, and although I’ve advocated for the Orioles prying away Andre Ethier, the Dodgers don’t seem to be motivated to move him any longer as they have questions marks of their own in the outfield.

So who else is out there?  Jay Bruce from the Cincinnati Reds.

Bruce was a potential Plan B to signing Fowler as the Orioles have liked him for awhile, but now he could be Plan A.  The Orioles almost lost out though to their rivals to the north, but a potential three way trade between the Jays, Angels and Reds died when medical concerns about a prospect in the deal were raised, luckily for the Orioles.

So why is Jay Bruce even available?

Before 2014, Bruce was a perennial 30+ HR rightfielder that took walks (9-10% BB%) and got on base (.344-.365 wOBA) and played good defense, a perfect fit for the Orioles.  Then he had to have surgery on his right knee in May of 2014 and everything went downhill from there.

Last season Bruce still managed to slug 26 HRs, but his wOBA was only .309 in spite of his BB% returning to his career norm (8.9%).  The reason – Bruce’s BABIP was only .251, his lowest mark since his rookie season.  Teams are employing the shift more and more, and Bruce has had a lot of trouble trying to beat it as he continues to pull the ball to RF to generate power.

Still there were some positives to take away from 2015.  In spite of still having an swing percentage of pitches out of the zone (O-Swing%) of 32.2%, Bruce managed to have his highest contact rates of his career – with a 77% contact rate overall and a 61.7%  contact rate for pitches he swung at that were out of the zone (O-Contact%).

Working with Scott Coolbaugh, who helped bring Chris Davis back from his dreadful 2014, and who improved Manny Machado’s hitting skills, should do wonders for Bruce IMO.

Defense currently might be Bruce’s best asset as he owns 73 career assists and has 30 DRS for his career in RF.  Bruce has an excellent throwing arm that would probably remind fans of Nick Markakis’.

His 5 DRS for 2015 in RF ranked him 7th out of qualified fielders according to Fangraphs and his 30 DRS over his career ranks him 7th for all RFers from 2002-2015.

Contract wise, Bruce is similar to what the Orioles would pay for Fowler as he’s signed for $12.5 million in 2016 with a $13 million option and $1 million buyout for 2017.  The Reds should be willing to eat some of that, but it shouldn’t take much to make a deal as at even $10 million per season Bruce could have value.

So let’s say the Reds kick in about $3.5 million – enough to reduce his salary for 2016 and pay the buyout for 2017.  What do the Orioles have to give up?  We don’t know what was headed back from the Angels or Jays to make the deal, but it shouldn’t take much.

I propose a package of Henry Urrutia, Tyler Wilson and Parker Bridwell for Bruce and cash.  Urrutia needs an extended shot to show what he can do at the major league level and he isn’t going to get that in Baltimore and Cincinnati needs somebody to play the OF to replace Bruce while their prospects develop.  Wilson and Bridwell are  future back of the rotation starters or bullpen arms that shouldn’t be missed too largely.  Even with the loss of Wilson and Bridwell, the Orioles still have enough pitching depth and should get more with this 2016 draft.

With Bruce, the Orioles would have this potential lineup against RHP:

3B Machado
LF Kim
CF Jones
1B Davis
DH Trumbo
C Wieters
RF Bruce
SS Hardy
2B Schoop

Against LHP, Bruce may still play but it’s likely he’d probably be platooned with somebody like Nolan Reimold or Dariel Alvarez as like most LH batters, he’s weaker career wise against LHP  (113 wRC+ vs. RHP,  97 vs. LHP).

Still with Bruce in the lineup, if he can recover his hitting skills from before 2014, and continue to play good defense, the Orioles would have a deeper lineup with better on-base capablity throughout, and they will have thoroughly improved their corner OF positions from what they were in 2015.

The Orioles wanted Dexter Fowler, but in the end they just might get what they need in Jay Bruce.

Image:  CC Image courtesy of Patrick Reddick on Flickr