Jay Bruce is one of the top power hitters on the market and could come with a more appealing price tag for the Boston Red Sox than other available stars.
The Boston Red Sox have made it a priority to upgrade their punchless offense following a season in which they finished last in the league in home runs. The good news is that there happen to be a few sluggers available on the free agent market.
One of those hitters is Jay Bruce, who hits the market after helping the Cleveland Indians return to the postseason following a mid-season trade with the New York Mets.
Bruce hit .254 with 36 home runs and 101 RBI in 146 games split between the Indians and Mets. The home run total tied for 15th in the majors and topped any Red Sox hitter by double-digits. The power is no fluke either, as the three-time All-Star has reached the 30-homer plateau five times in his career.
From a pure power perspective, Bruce may be the second best bat on the free agent market behind J.D. Martinez. The latter put on an MVP-caliber performance after being traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks this season and is clearly the superior hitter. However, Bruce won’t cost nearly as much.
ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that teams inquiring about Bruce say he’s seeking a five-year deal in the $80-90 million range.
That’s not a cheap price tag by any means, yet it’s a bargain when compared to the $200 million mega-deal Martinez is rumored to be after.
The 30-year old Bruce is only a few months older than Martinez, yet won’t require nearly as long of a commitment. There is a significant risk of overpaying a declining Martinez deep into a seven or eight-year deal, while Bruce is more likely to hold his value over the course of a four or five-year deal.
Martinez is clearly the better hitter but is he twice as good? Put it this way – would you rather pay $200 million for eight years of Martinez or $80 million for five years of Bruce? Given that the Red Sox have other needs to address and a young core that will eventually need to be paid, Bruce may be a better fit for their long-term payroll.
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Bruce also has the advantage of being a better defensive player than Martinez. Considered to be an excellent outfielder early in his career, Bruce struggled through a few down seasons in the field following arthroscopic knee surgery in 2014. Now a few years removed from the procedure, Bruce seems to have regained some lost mobility and managed a solid 6 defensive runs saved in right field this year.
The Red Sox don’t currently have a need for an outfielder, yet Bruce’s ability to play a corner spot without being a liability has value. He also has some limited experience covering first base, which is a position Boston does need to address this winter.
Acquiring Bruce in a mid-season trade prevented the Indians from extending a qualifying offer, which means the Red Sox could sign him without sacrificing a valuable draft pick. This gives him an edge over some of the other top bats on the market, including Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas of the Kansas City Royals.
These factors make Bruce an appealing free agent target but he’s not without his flaws. He hit a mere .222 against left-handed pitching this year and hasn’t been much better against southpaws over the course of his career. A contract that averages in the range of $16-20 million per year is too much to pay for someone who should be relegated to a platoon role.
Given the number of corner outfield bats potentially available via free agency or trade, the market for Bruce could end up being a bit cooler than he expects. If his price range ends up being a four-year deal between $52-60 million then the Red Sox would be more enticed to jump in.
He won’t be the top option on their radar but Bruce can’t be ignored by a Red Sox team starved for power, especially if his contract demands end up settling significantly below the other top free agent bats.