The Astros have a bit of uncertainty in terms of a permanent left fielder and designated hitter. Could a native Texan fill one of the roles in 2018?
In this most recent baseball season, the Astros had nine players log at least one inning in left field. Essentially, left field was a revolving door. Nori Aoki, Marwin Gonzalez, Derek Fisher and Josh Reddick logged the most innngs at the position. And that wasn’t necessarily an issue. The team’s roster flexibility allowed management the freedom to utilize the position in a number of ways. The same line of reasoning applies to designated hitter.
Alas, the Astros probably wouldn’t mind a bit more stability from left field and designated hitter in 2018. Not completely necessary, mind you, but stability matters to a certain extent.
Enter Jay Bruce, the long-time Cincinnati Red who also played for the New York Mets and the Cleveland Indians in recent years. He happens to be a free-agent. Abbey Mastracco of NJ Advance Media for NJ.com reports that the Texas native is interested in a partnership with either of the state’s major league franchises.
"Multiple sources have told NJ Advance Media that Bruce would like to sign with one of the Texas teams but the Mets are still on the list."
On the surface, Bruce would provide the Astros with another left-handed bat in a predominantly right-handed lineup. The long-time outfielder would also allow a certain degree of additional roster flexibility in the outfield and designated hitter. The 30-year old hitter did produce a respectable 115 OPS+ and 2.9 WAR for the Mets and Indians in 2017. A bat like that would fit in well with Houston’s prolific lineup.
However, the fit isn’t obvious for the Astros.
Like I stated earlier, Houston’s management used multiple left fielders in their championship season. It’s a recipe the team knows is successful. Gonzalez and Fisher are the likely left fielders next season. They would also be much cheaper than Bruce. And the Astros already have right field covered with Reddick. Bruce has been mainly a right fielder for most of his career, and last appeared as a left fielder in 2008. The transition from right to left field isn’t unusual, but we do not know Bruce’s preference.
Plus, Bruce’s reported contract demand is for a five-year deal worth a total value of $80-$90 million. That’s a rather high asking price for a 30-year old outfielder who be more of a designated hitter-only bat in the later life of a contract. The demands will likely lower as time goes on, but it remains to be seen by how much.
All it takes is just one team to step in and overpay.
You also have to consider Bruce’s left knee meniscus surgery back in 2014, so, take that for what it’s worth. To Bruce’s benefit, his defensive metrics like UZR and DRS did rebound in 2017. He could play a respectable outfield for hopefully another couple of seasons if his knee(s) hold up. In regards to the designated hitter role, the Astros have plenty of options in Evan Gattis and Gonzalez amongst others. I would surprised if Houston’s front office overpays for another outfield/DH-type player. The front office probably doesn’t want to also block top prospect Kyle Tucker if he continues to develop quickly.
Anyway, the Astros will not be the only team involved in the Bruce rumors. Teams like the Yankees, Rangers, Mets and Indians are more likely serious than Houston when you examine the overall need.
"However, Bruce has told me multiple times that his priority is winning. With the Yankees, he has a solid chance and he would be able to play multiple positions and contribute to a team who is ready to win now, instead of attempting a quick rebuild."
No surprise that Bruce wants to play for a winner. And the Astros certainly qualify as one. See: 2017 World Series champions. The fit just doesn’t seem to be there in terms of role and price. And general manager Jeff Luhnow and the team’s front office has yet to be reportedly interested. I’m sure they’ll research Bruce and a possible partnership, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
**Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Reference**