7:16pm: Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reports that the Jays are also “showing a strong interest” in Dexter Fowler. In the event that the Jays were to sign Fowler, he’d slide over to one of the currently vacant outfield corners, as Kevin Pillar stands out as one of the game’s premier defensive players and is locked in as Toronto’s center fielder.
From my vantage point, Fowler is a vastly better fit for the Blue Jays than Bruce, as he’d provide a definitive defensive upgrade over either Bautista or Saunders in one of the outfield corners and would also add both the speed and lineup balance that Atkins has stated to be offseason priorities. The additions of both Fowler and Morales would give the Jays two switch-hitters to inject some much-needed left-handedness to a lineup that currently features right-handers Russell Martin, Devon Travis, Troy Tulowitzki, Josh Donaldson and Pillar.
Signing Fowler would require the Blue Jays to forfeit the No. 24 overall pick in the 2017 draft, though the team could recoup a compensatory pick in the event that either Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion signs elsewhere. Fowler, 31 next March, batted a robust .276/.393/.447 with 13 homers and 13 stolen bases in 551 plate appearances with the Cubs while turning in the best defensive metrics of his career in center field.
4:47pm: The Blue Jays are “among the teams making a push for Jay Bruce,” reports ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick (on Twitter). Toronto has an obvious need for corner outfield help following the departures of Jose Bautista and Michael Saunders, and Bruce figures to be a trade candidate now that Yoenis Cespedes is reportedly in agreement with the Mets on a new four-year, $110MM contract.
[Related: Toronto Blue Jays Depth Chart]
Toronto has already tried to trade for Bruce once, back in Spring Training, and was believed to be on the verge of completing a three-team trade with the Angels and Reds before the medical reports on some of the minor league talent involved in the deal caused the trade to break down. Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins has stated that he’d like to add some left-handed bats to the lineup to help balance it out, and Toronto has already succeeded to some extent by signing switch-hitting DH Kendrys Morales to a three-year deal.
Bruce, 30 in April, is fresh off his best offensive season since 2013, having batted .250/.309/.506 with 33 homers between the Reds and Mets in 2016. However, he struggled greatly for much of his time with the Mets, and while he did catch fire in the season’s final two weeks, that marks the second straight season in which Bruce performed well for most of the season before fading badly in the second half. He’s also seen his defensive ratings drop dramatically in recent years — perhaps not coincidentally after undergoing knee surgery early in 2014. Defensive Runs Saved pegged him at -11 this past season, while Ultimate Zone Rating was at -9.
Bruce would give the Jays a short-term bat with plenty of pop, though, and his $13MM salary for the upcoming season is one that the Jays could certainly afford. The Mets picked up a club option on Bruce after the season due to some uncertainty surrounding whether Cespedes would return, and recent reports have indicated that he’d be marketed in the event of a Cespedes re-signing.