News of the Cleveland Indians being interested in Cincinnati Reds outfielder Jay Bruce started bubbling last week, when Jon Heyman threw out the idea of the Indians' "dream trade" being a deal involving Bruce and Tyler Naquin. That same thought train was chugged along by recent news that Bruce would be willing to waive his no-trade clause if the two teams were able to strike a deal.
That's a big if, and it's an if the Indians really do not need to bother exploring. On the surface, sure, the idea of the Indians getting a power-hitting outfielder seems like a perfect idea. But let's break down why it's not.
For starters, Jay Bruce is hardly an outfielder anymore. Defensive metrics over the last several seasons have him as a pretty bad defender. His slide seemed to start in 2014 when he was worth -6 defense runs saved and a -6.1 UZR. Defensive runs saved had him at a more optimistic five runs last season, but his UZR remained in the negatives at -4.2. This year has been even worse.
Bruce is ranked dead last in the league by FanGraphs' defensive ratings at -16.9. His UZR/150, which normalizes his defense over an average number of opportunities, is rated at -28.4, second-worst in the league only to Tampa Bay Rays shortstop, Brad Miller. He is back in the negatives for defensive runs saved at -11. And we are not even at the All-Star break.
The Indians are going to need to be willing to give up a whole lot of defensive value for a few home runs every season, assuming Bruce doesn't slump for the rest of the season. His best use at this point would be as a designated hitter, where he can build up value as an offensive threat (when he isn't slumping), but not give it all back with horrid defense.
One of the biggest reasons the Indians find themselves up in the American League Central and one on of the hottest hitting streaks in team history is consistency. Very few batters in the Indians lineup (save for Yan Gomes) have been absolutely useless all season. Slumps have been short, and when they happen someone else is there to pick up the slack, offensively. Jay Bruce is not exactly the model of that consistency -- when he goes on a slump he can go on a slump for months at a time.
Every season he seems to have a month or two period where his offense drops off a cliff. Sometimes it comes at the beginning of the season, like in 2015, and then another usually comes later in the season. Between July 27 and August 28 last season, Bruce slashed .143/.189/.277. Even in 2016, which is already shaping up to be one of the best offensive seasons of his career, he slumped hardcore between April 17 and May 8, slashing .185/.254/.385.
Bruce is hot right now, but how long will that last? How long until he is mired in another month-long slump that immediately makes the Indians regret dealing one or more top prospects for him?
Outfield may no longer be top deadline priority
It was easy to say the Indians outfield would need help coming into the season, but they have more pressing issues as the trade deadline approaches.
On top of all the ways that the Bruce is just not a fit for the Indians, there is the fact that outfield has been downright okay this season. Nothing that proves the outfield could not use a small boost, but they are not a total trainwreck, even without Michael Brantley. Of AL batters with at least 140 PA (just to squeeze Naquin in there), the Indians have four outfielders with a wRC+ over 100: Tyler Naquin (164), Lonnie Chisenhall (122), Jose Ramirez (112), Rajai Davis (107). The outfield, as a whole, ranks third in the American League in FanGraphs WAR; fifth in wRC+.
I have touched on the idea before that outfield is not really the Indians' biggest need at this point. Whenever Michael Brantley returns, it will be like acquiring a big-name outfielder all over again, similar to when Carlos Carrasco returned to the rotation. The Indians are probably going to buyers at the deadline -- at the very least we know they won't be sellers -- but outfield is probably not going to be their top priority, and for good reason.
The idea of Bruce going to the Indians sounds like nothing more than analysts lazily concluding that, since the Indians "need power" (which isn't even necessarily true) and they have an injured outfielder, they must be a perfect fit for Jay Bruce. In reality, that is nowhere near the case for anyone with even a half-open eye watching the Indians.