About two weeks ago, the Seattle Mariners traded the first of two “savings bond” players acquired from the New York Mets in the Robinson Cano/Edwin Diaz blockbuster, when they shipped Anthony Swarzak to the Braves for Jesse Biddle and Arodys Vizcaino. Sunday saw the second domino fall, as they sent outfielder Jay Bruce to another National League East team, the Philadelphia Phillies, alongside $18 million, in exchange for infield prospect Jake Scheiner.
The deal had first arrived in the rumor mill about 24 hours before the return and financial details were announced, and my initial reaction was that it didn’t make a considerable amount of sense for the Phillies based on Bruce’s low on-base numbers, defensive limitations, and hefty financial price tag. After seeing the significant amount of money headed to Philly, however, I warmed up to the idea, as they were left to pay Bruce just under $3 million. Bruce is a serviceable left-handed power bat who makes for a nice seven-hole hitter. As a matter of fact, his career OPS in the seven spot is .820, which is the second-highest of any spot in the line-up, behind leadoff (which is a much smaller sample size).
The most encouraging aspect of this trade for the Phillies is the benefit of added line-up protection for Bruce. The Phillies possess one of the strongest batting orders in the league thanks to recent acquisitions of Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, J.T. Realmuto, and Jean Segura, all of whom are better “hitters” than Bruce is. Pitchers are more likely to pitch to Bruce, which could have a very positive influence on his average numbers. He also brings the Phillies the added source of left-handed power that they had been in need of even before losing Odubel Herrera for an unforeseen amount of time.
They have a very right-handed heavy line-up, with just the switch hitting Cesar Hernandez and lefty Harper straying from that narrative. This diversifies their lineup, which will help them later in games, in terms of an ability to take advantage of situational relievers.
The piece heading back to Seattle is third baseman Jake Scheiner, a 23-year-old who is currently playing at the High-A level. Scheiner can play both infield corners as well as left field, but is known to be a well below average defensive player, posting low range factors in all three spots. After being drafted in the fourth round of the 2017 draft, he started off in Class-A Short Season Williamsport and slashed a lackluster .250/.317/.377 (.694 OPS) over 259 plate appearances. He turned it on, however, last year following a promotion to the Low-A Lakewood BlueClaws. Over 517 plate appearances, he showed why the Phillies took him so early slashing .296/.372/.470 (.872) with 10 stolen bases, 30 doubles, five triples, and 13 homers.
Unfortunately, he fell back to Earth after a promotion to Class-A Advanced, slashing .256/.326/.353 (.678) with just two homers thus far. There is some obvious potential in the bat, but he has failed to show it consistently to this point. If he is able to rediscover what he did last season, the Mariners could be looking at an everyday guy, but I think the more realistic outcome is that of a bench guy. I would peg his ceiling as a 2018 Daniel Palka, with the more likely result of a Patrick Wisdom.
Based on the financial aspect of this deal, I’m going to give the initial edge to Philly. I believe that Bruce will be a reasonably solid boost to their already stellar line-up whose added benefit will outweigh the cost. It’s not a bad deal for the Mariners, as Scheiner has major-league potential, but based on the way that the trade market for power hitters has been in recent seasons, and the fact that Bruce comes with an additional season of team control, I believe that they would have been better off holding him until next season when the financial price tag was lower.