Rumor season is upon us, and the first one involving the Dodgers could bring an outfielder to Los Angeles.
For years now, the Dodgers have had a weird combination of too many outfielders and not enough outfielders. Even with Andre Ethier‘s injury and Carl Crawford being released, the Dodgers don’t seem to have enough reps to keep everyone in the outfield rotation happy and in rhythm with enough at bats. This is magnified with Enrique Hernandez and Howie Kendrick, both of whom are naturally infielders, each getting more playing time in left field than any other position.
The Dodgers clearly need to spark their offense in some way, but adding another outfielder might not be the most efficient way to do so. Yet, this.
Jay Bruce is sort of an outfielder. He’s an outfielder because there is no designated hitter in the NL, as he is borderline unplayable in any outfield position due to his defense. Let’s start with the positive, which is his offense. Take into account that Cincinnati is a great hitters’ ballpark, but Bruce is putting together a career year at the plate. Entering Sunday, Bruce had a .280/.329/.575 triple slash with 16 homers, 17 doubles, six triples and 57 RBIs. He’s struck out 59 times and walked 18 times in 283 plate appearances.
For reference, Corey Seager is the only Dodger with more home runs or doubles than Bruce, and Seager’s .297/..354/.527 slash is the only one on the Dodgers that comes close to Bruce’s.
The usual argument against players from Colorado or Cincinnati have to do with their ballparks, but Bruce’s road splits are much better than his home splits. In 148 plate appearances at Great American Ballpark, Bruce has a .243/.297/.522 slash. In 135 plate appearances on the road, Bruce has a .320/.363/.632 slash. His career splits are a lot less drastic, but at home he’s a career .254/.328/.500 guy and on the road he’s .245/.312/.439.
Bruce would undoubtably improve the Dodgers offense, but despite his great offensive season, he’s only been worth 0.2 WAR according to FanGraphs. His offense value is 10.1 above average, but his defensive value is 16.7 below average. His UZR is -13.5, which is the worst in baseball among position players. He’s essentially a more extreme left-handed Matt Kemp, who does the job on offense but if a huge liability on defense.
Bruce’s contract makes him a bit more appealing if he continues to hit like this, as he has a team option for next season that’s worth $13 million.
Bruce was nearly moved in the offseason in a three-team deal that would have had Bruce headed to Toronto, Michael Saunders to Anaheim and prospects likely going from the Angels to the Reds, but the trade was killed after a failed physical (not by Bruce). The Dodgers probably have 10 prospects better than the Angels’ top prospect, so before the season Bruce could have been had for cheap. After a great first half of the season, Bruce’s value has certainly elevated. The degree of which it’s elevated could be the difference between Bruce becoming a Dodger or not.
The Dodgers could undoubtably use his bat, but I’m not sure where Bruce fits on the field. The Dodgers put a premium on defense when they moved Kemp and Dee Gordon, so picking up the worst defender in baseball (by UZR) doesn’t seem like a move they would make. If they do pick him up, he takes away playing time from Yasiel Puig (who was in the top-five of UZR before his injury) or Trayce Thompson, who has been in a slump but still looks like a legit major league outfielder. Bruce would be a great lefty bat off the bench, but taking him out of the lineup and ruining his rhythm could negatively impact his numbers.
If the Dodgers want a left handed hitting outfielder to replace Ethier, there are better options than Bruce. Josh Reddick could become available and is a free agent at the end of the season, which should lessen the cost.
Kole Calhoun would be a great pickup, but he’s under contract until 2019, which would probably make the Angels’ asking price huge. He’s at worst average on defense and is very good offensively, but the Angels have no reason to move him. Either him or Reddick would at least be valuable enough as two-way players to justify taking playing time away from Thompson.
Depending on the asking price, Bruce could be a savvy pickup. The Dodgers have a deep farm system, but even giving up Austin Barnes (Dodgers #11 prospect on MLB) feels like an overpay for me for a guy having a career year on offense and a horrible year on defense.
There are ways for the Dodgers to improve the offense, and I don’t think Bruce improves the offense enough to make up for how much he hurts the defense. With the Dodgers’ rotation getting healthy in the next month (hopefully), the Dodgers can’t afford to give away free outs with bad defense. I’ve talked a lot about wanting the Dodgers’ offense to improve, but Bruce is a player I’d likely hope they pass on.