Let’s start by pointing out the unlikelihood of even arriving at this juncture in the Yankees’ Jay Bruce saga. Based on this team’s recent history, on this species’ distant history, didn’t you think someone would get injured and render the “Bruce versus Mike Tauchman saga” moot?
As the clock hurtled toward midnight Thursday into Friday, however, the Yankees, their position players fully healthy, faced a call thanks to the terms of the agreement they negotiated with Bruce last month: They either had to add Bruce to their 40-man roster by that midnight deadline or, barring that, release him or make him available to the other 29 clubs over the next 48 hours, until Saturday midnight into Sunday.
Barring a late-breaking development of an injury finally occurring or a team dramatically increasing its trade offer for Tauchman, the Yankees appeared set to indeed alert the rest of the industry that Bruce was theirs for the taking, at the $1.5 million salary written in his contract. The White Sox, having lost studly young outfielder Eloy Jimenez to a terrible injury (ruptured left pectoral tendon) and without an established designated hitter, stand as an obvious team to eye. Their manager Tony La Russa managed the Cardinals for the first four years (2008 through 2011) of Bruce’s arrival and rise with the rival Reds, and their bench coach Miguel Cairo, the former Yankee and Met, played alongside Bruce in Cincinnati from 2010 through 2012.
So if you’re a Yankees fan who has dreamed of Bruce poking homers over the right-field wall in The Bronx, you can now treat yourself to nightmares of him doing so for the visiting club in October. Of course, the alternative worst-case scenario would be seeing Tauchman, with four years of team control left, head elsewhere instead of Bruce and proving his 2019 small sample to be no fluke as Aaron Hicks remains injury-prone and Brett Gardner retires after this year.
Call it the downside of good team health.
The soon-to-be-34-year-old Bruce strung together a .400/.471/.867 slash line in his first seven Grapefruit League games, offering hope that he was ready to rebound after an injury-prone, three-year stretch for the entirety of the $39 million Sandy Alderson guaranteed him for the Mets back in January 2018. Alas, as he laid low Thursday, awaiting his fate, his numbers had dropped to .194/.242/.419. He went hitless in his last 16 at-bats, striking out seven times, and that tiny sample combined with the far greater 2018-20 sample made it awfully difficult to justify jettisoning the out-of-options Tauchman for no or little return in favor of Bruce.
Yes, Bruce might be a better fit than Tauchman for the 2021 Yankees, who lack a true backup first baseman (although we know starting second baseman DJ LeMahieu can handle the position adequately when Luke Voit needs a blow) and still employ Gardner, who is essentially the old Uncle Nicky to Tauchman’s young Uncle Nicky if you’re a “This Is Us” fan. Yet he might not, and if the Yankees won’t consider starting the season with 14 position players and 12 pitchers rather than 13 and 13 — their April schedule features only four days off, and you might have heard that clubs are concerned about their pitchers ramping up from a 60-game calendar to 162 — then this is where they stand.
These are what sports folks call good decisions, those born of abundance rather than shortages. They nevertheless can bring their own level of pain and paranoia. Will the White Sox bite on Bruce? Will a National League club view him as a quality bench and clubhouse guy and reap the benefits? Or will this prove much ado about virtually nothing? We’ll get the results of this roster call soon enough, with the understanding that the consequences will take longer.