Jay Bruce was previously looked at as a potential trade deadline acquisition for the Pittsburgh Pirates. It didn’t happen, but Bruce has thrived with the Cleveland Indians.
In a year dominated by the home run, the value of a home run hitter plummeted.
Take a look at the following stat line. What would it take to acquire this hitter? Two or three top-notch prospects?
Try one Single-A pitcher.
This is no projected future star either. Ryder Ryan was selected in the 40th round of the 2014 MLB Draft and has a 4.08 era in two seasons in the minors.
The Cleveland Indians only had to give up a pitching prospect, most of which are a dime-a-dozen, to get a power hitter like Jay Bruce.
He’s a player that Pittsburgh Pirates easily could have had, but did not acquire.
An outfield option
Jay Bruce isn’t the greatest player in MLB, nor was he the hottest name at the trade deadline this past July. Nonetheless, he was a desired complimentary player to a playoff contender.
A team like the Pirates had plenty of reasons to want a player like Bruce. On Aug. 10, the day that the Indians acquired Bruce from the New York Mets, Pirates rightfielder Gregory Polanco was five days away from going on the D.L. It had also been a mere eight days since Polanco returned from his second of three D.L. stints in 2017 due to a strained hamstring.
In addition to hamstring problems, Polanco also had an awful 2017 at the plate. It rivaled his 2014 rookie season for the worst of Polanco’s career. His 81 wRC+, .305 OBP and 6.6 BB% were all career-worsts. Polanco also hit .251 with 11 home runs.
Meanwhile, Bruce went on to combine to slash .258/.324/.493 with 36 home runs and a 118 wRC+ with the Mets and the Indians.
If the Pirates had acquired Bruce, he would have been playing in right field in place of Polanco. Instead, the Pirates opted for Jordan Luplow and Polanco against when he returned from injury.
In two games this postseason, Bruce has hit a couple big home runs.
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) October 6, 2017
Just a couple…
Jay Bruce ties it up and Cleveland is ROCKING pic.twitter.com/AyoA5w7ETo
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) October 7, 2017
In two games against the New York Yankees in the NLDS, Bruce is 3-9 with two home runs and 1.111 slugging percentage. His only other base-hit was a double, so Bruce has yet to reach base other than via extra-base hits. He’s fit in seamlessly with Cleveland and is a major contributor.
By acquiring Bruce in return for so little, the Indians were essentially talking on the remainder of his contract for the 2017 season. A free agent after this season, Bruce is being paid approximately $4.3 million by the Indians for the rest of this season, according to ESPN.
Instead of paying up for Bruce, the Pirates instead traded for utilityman Sean Rodriguez on Aug. 5. Rodriguez only got 100 plate appearances with the Pirates and slashed .168/.255/.274. Bruce was far better in 169 plate appearances with Cleveland.
Additionally, the Pirates paid more by acquiring Rodriguez. According to Spotrac, Pittsburgh only paid Rodriguez just under $1.6 million in 2017, but he is under contract in 2018 for $5.75 million. Pittsburgh paid more to keep Rodriguez for longer but he is an inferior player to Bruce.
Rodriguez was an understandable depth move, but he is proof that the Pirates could have afforded Bruce. Apparently, it was one or the other, and the Pirates took the lesser talent for more years of control.
Paying for their mistake
When the Indians acquired Bruce on Aug. 10, the Pittsburgh Pirates were a game under .500. More importantly, they were three games out of first place in the N.L. Central. From there on out, Pittsburgh went 18-29 and ended up 17 games out of first place.
That remarkable drop was in part due to the inability to get more outfield production. As Andrew McCutchen‘s stats plummetted in August and right field became a revolving door, the outfield became a major hindrance to success.
Even if the Pirates had acquired Bruce, they may have still missed the playoffs. However, no one would have accused management of giving up on the 2017 season. No one would have called Bob Nutting cheap.
Acquiring Bruce would have helped the Pirates far more than it would have hurt them. Cleveland made the move to get Bruce because Michael Brantley got injured again. they gave up little to get him and he thrived. Their trade for him was a small market team’s dream.
The Pittsburgh Pirates had a golden opportunity to acquire a high-end player for the rest of the 2017 season and would not have had to give up much, but chose not to pull the trigger. It hurt then and with every home run Bruce clubs, it continues to hurt.