Let’s play a little game. Let’s say you’re the GM of a team that, due to unfortunate injury circumstances, is looking to start a new outfielder to take up a vacated position. You would like to this player’s profile to be typical for a corner, meaning that he can hit for a decent amount of power and play a bit of at least passable defense.
Defensive metrics can be sketchy, this we know, but they do provide a good at-a-glance baseline when judging a player’s ability in the field. Here are two player options you have:
If we’re looking for an immediate upgrade to help push towards the postseason, offensively, I’d take Player B.
Player B is Jay Bruce and Player A is Avisail Garcia, though you’ve probably already guessed the former, judging by the atrocious power numbers. Granted, some of the sample sizes are smaller for Garcia than they have been in the past few seasons for Bruce, but it’s not as though adding 100 more games to his totals will suddenly change Garcia into a superstar. The White Sox have seen enough.
During a time when the White Sox looked like solid contenders back in April, things in the outfield were good. They were very good. The Sox had figured out what Adam Eaton’s niche was by stashing him in right field, a place where his defense was so good some wondered if he might draw Jason Heyward comps, and newcomer Austin Jackson held down Eaton’s vacated spot in center quite well.
But just as we’ve seen on the North side of town, outfields are injury prone. Everyone is injury prone. It’s baseball. Things happen and by mid-season players are banged up. When a team is looking to contend they simply cannot afford to stash a any warm body in the field when tragedy strikes. Sufficient depth, a title that Garcia does adequately not live up to, is needed.
Having an outfield that currently consists of J.B. Shuck in centerfield, along with a tandem of Eaton and Garcia night after night is barely holding the fort down (at least Melky Cabrera is doing just fine in left), much less making the outfield a plus one as it was for the short time in which Jackson was an everyday starter.
So then, back to Bruce. The Reds are in a heavy rebuilding period and have been looking to move Bruce since what feels like the dawn of time, and the White Sox need a right fielder who is actually able to hit for power, not one for whom they’re still waiting for to do so after four years in the majors.
The White Sox are, let’s use the term “conservative,” when it comes to shelling out for high quality players, and as I pointed out last week when detailing my feelings on Justin Morneau, they’re more interested in bargain hunting and squeezing as much talent as they can from their finds than mortgaging what’s left of the farm system to land a player still in their prime or possessing plus talent.
This is what leads me to believe Bruce is a realistic target for the White Sox. He’s no superstar, he isn’t going to be netting Tim Anderson and Carson Fulmer. He seems to be the type of profile the White Sox would be willing to make a deal for.
Bruce’s defense has been bad in 2016, we can see that from the numbers above. But the real question now becomes, is his defense really much worse than Garcia’s could end up being?
Garcia’s positive defensive numbers season have come in very little playing time, and seem to conceal what we all know to be true: he is also very bad at defense. Just a few seasons ago Bruce was putting up slightly better numbers than Garcia. It’s certainly picking nits, neither are going to be winning a Gold Glove anytime soon, but when bargain hunting on the trade market, there are certain aspects of a players game you must accept as part of the “discount”. That’s when the decision is more heavily weighted on what specific tools the new player would bring to the table. The Sox need offense and power, and that’s something that Bruce will give you this season. Bruce is posting an incredible .539 slugging percentage this season, good for 11th overall among National League hitters with minimum 300 plate appearances.
Bruce is streaky, no doubt, but if the White Sox pick him up it’s not as though they’re committing themselves to a lifetime of wondering if Bruce’s bat will magically morph into Garcia levels of atrocity. Bruce is signed through the end of the 2016 season with a $13 million team option for 2017. If things don’t work out for the White Sox and they end up looking to go into full rebuild mode come October, they can simply shake hands with Bruce and walk away. But if they’re going to push now, they’ll need to add another piece of moderately priced depth to the outfield, as well as the bench when Jackson does return.
Bruce may not look like a completely well-rounded acquisition on a team that needs as much help to stay afloat in the second half as the White Sox do, but the important part is he’s an upgrade over Garcia. That’s a start, and a very important one at that.
Lead photo courtesy of Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports