With Lonnie Chisenhall already on the disabled list with a calf strain, Michael Brantley sprained his ankle Tuesday night and landed on the DL as well, leaving the Indians suddenly scrambling for outfield depth. Bruce is hitting .256/.321/.520, though he has dropped to .221/.272/.453 in 22 games in the second half.
The move gives manager Terry Francona plenty of flexibility assuming Chisenhall and Brantley eventually return to health. Rookie center fielder Bradley Zimmer has been inconsistent at the plate since the beginning of July, hitting .236/.295/.400 as his strikeout-to-walk rate has declined from his hot start in May, when he posted a .974. Still, he’s the team’s best center fielder, so if Francona wants to run out his best defensive outfield, he could do this with a right-handed starter on the mound:
That would slide Edwin Encarnacion over to first base (where he has started 17 games) and Carlos Santana to the bench, although the defense takes a hit there. Or keep Santana at first, Encarnacion at DH, play Bruce in right field and Chisenhall in center, if he wants his best hitting lineup. With a lefty on the mound, Austin Jackson takes over in center with Bruce in right. Brandon Guyer, who punished lefties last year and platooned with Chisenhall in right field throughout the postseason, becomes the odd man out since he has replicated his 2016 success.
Anyway, it gives the Indians a deeper bench and insurance if Brantley and/or Chisenhall don’t recover. Remember last year's World Series: The Indians carried just 13 position players and Game 7 ended with light-hitting utility man Michael Martinez batting with the tying run on first base. Francona should have a better and deeper bench this posteason.
Of course, the Indians have to get there first. They had that nine-game winning streak at the end of July, but the Kansas City Royals are still yapping at their heels. With Andrew Miller on the DL and closer Cody Allen struggling a bit (he’s 0-6), the back of the bullpen is a little shaky right now. Still, they’re the best team in the division and their playoff odds are projected at around 90 percent to win the division. I suspect Bruce will be back in the postseason after playing in the wild-card game last year with the Mets.
For the Mets, they weren’t going to re-sign Bruce given that Michael Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes are likely locked into the outfield corners in 2018. You can make the argument that, if they decided to eat some of Bruce’s salary -- he’s owed $4.2 million the rest of the season -- before the trade deadline, they might have picked up a better prospect than a 30th-round draft pick in Ryan. That’s probably unfair. There simply didn’t seem to be any market for first basemen/corner outfield types, and it’s possible this trade was completed only due to Brantley’s injury.