Bruce should be a useful player for the Phillies, though the Mariners might have gotten a better player had they decided to eat more money.
Jerry Dipoto has struck again! The Mariners and Phillies agreed on a trade that sent Jay Bruce to Philladelphia. To complete the trade, the Phillies are sending High-A prospect Jake Scheiner to Seattle along with $18.25 million to cover the $21 million left on Bruce’s contract. The Mariners will get something from a player they do not need anymore in what is now a lost season, despite its promising start.
Bruce is having a strange year after having a bad one in 2018. He signed a three-year, $39 million deal with the Mets, but hit only .223/.310/.370 over 94 games. Furthermore, Bruce is not much of an outfielder anymore, so he was worth -0.5 WAR. That led to the Mets unloaded him during the offseason in exchange for Robinson Canó and Edwin Díaz.
On the surface, Bruce seems to be having a nice bounce-back season with a 114 wRC+, and he is already about a full win better than he was all of last year. However, the all encompassing stats mask what is a strange batting line. He is hitting .212/.283/.533, and he is doing an impression of Joey Gallo by having more home runs (14) than singles (10). Bruce has always been a low-OBP, high-SLG guy, but he is taking it to new extremes, and now he is going to a ballpark that is far more hitter friendly than T-Mobile Park (I’m still getting used to that name change).
I feel like I cite Rob Arthur’s article on the juiced balls in everything I write lately, but one can’t deny the impact it has had. Bruce might be one of the best examples of this.
According to Statcast, his average exit velocity is up 1.5 mph over last year but his 44.8 percent hard-hit rate is over 10 percentage points higher. His average launch angle is up nearly four degrees, too. His approach has become far more aggressive, as he is swinging more often, especially at pitches outside of the zone, but it has not affected his walk rate as much as one would think. He has a solid 8.7 BB%, though that is down compared to how much he was walking over the past two years. Unsurprisingly, his strikeout rate has really taken a hit. It hovered in the low twenties since 2015, but now it is up to about 29 percent.
To top off all of Bruce’s strange offensive numbers, he has just a .210 BABIP. Part of that is because the number of home runs he has hit is a big chunk of his hit total, which does not count towards BABIP because they are not “in play.”
Bruce would fit better on an AL team because he is more of a 1B/DH type nowadays, but he is not a disaster in the outfield. I would certainly prefer him in the outfield over Rhys Hoskins, who is having a great year offensively. The Phillies can sit him against tough righties in favor of Bruce, and they can do the same with Andrew McCutchen. This trade still does not solve the Phillies center field problem, however, unless Scott Kingery continues to mash, which I am not betting on. McCutchen and Bryce Harper should only be playing center on an emergency basis. The Phillies defense is bad enough without one of those two in center and Bruce in a corner.
Odúbel Herrera is on administrative leave for at least another two weeks due to an arrest for an alleged domestic violence incident. What Herrera allegedly did is far, far more serious than baseball will ever be. That being said, the Phillies have to prepare for the possibility that he could be suspended long term. He has not been hitting at all, anyway, with a measly line of .222/.288/.341. Even if Bruce regresses to his 2018 levels, that is still a lot better than what Herrera was doing at the plate.
The Phillies have only a one-game lead on the Braves in the standings at the time of this writing, and FanGraphs still has the Braves as being the favorites to win the division. They need every edge they can get if they want to be the ones that come out on top, especially in the left-handed hitting department. Nick Williams was supposed to be that guy, but he has been terrible this season, hitting a paltry .159/.205/.232 albeit in only 73 PA. I would definitely take Williams over Bruce over the next few years, but the Phillies are not in a position to take any chances right now.
Jake Scheiner had a great year in A-ball Lakewood last year, hitting .296/.372/.470, but he is hitting just .256/.324/.356 in High A Clearwater as a 23-year-old. He is certainly not a lottery ticket, but his chances of being a useful major leaguer are not high. One has to wonder if the Mariners would have gotten a better return had they decided to eat all or most of the remaining money on Bruce’s contract. I have said it many times and I will say it again: talent is a much scarcer commodity than money in today’s game.
The Phillies get a useful role player for a few million dollars and a prospect that they will likely not miss. It’s a good move, and if it adds even just one win to the Phillies total by the end of the year, that could make all the difference in the world.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.