TAMPA — Four seasons ago, seated in a hotel room with his family in Philadephia, Jay Bruce was told by the Mets that he was being traded. At the time, Bruce believed that he was headed to the New York Yankees.
Moments later, however, Bruce learned that he had been traded to the Cleveland Indians instead.
"My understanding is there was an agreement between the Mets and the Yankees and something happened at the last minute there and I went to the Indians," Bruce recalled in a Zoom call with reporters on Friday.
It may have taken a little longer than Bruce anticipated on that day in 2017, but the veteran outfielder is finally donning pinstripes. Bruce signed a minor-league deal with the Bombers this spring, receiving an invitation to spring training.
One week in at Yankees camp, the 33-year-old isn't surprised by what he's seen around him thus far. It's an extremely talented roster, he said, a club that he's happy to play for rather than play against.
While there are no guarantees that Bruce will make the Yankees' Opening Day roster—and he has an opt out in his contract set for March 25th in case everything doesn't work out—Bruce explained that he picked the Yankees this offseason for one reason and one reason only.
"I chose the Yankees because I want to win a World Series," he said. "I view my role as someone who has the ability to play both corners of the outfield, play first base, DH when needed and provide the left-handed power that the Yankees have been looking for."
Across 13 big-league seasons, Bruce has established himself as one of the best lefty power hitters in the game. His 318 career home runs are seventh-most among active players, six more than his new teammate Giancarlo Stanton.
If he gets an opportunity and can stay healthy, that number will almost certainly grow with Bruce playing a good chunk of games at Yankee Stadium. Yankees' ace Gerrit Cole recognized Bruce as a "prolific home run hitter" while fellow slugger Luke Voit acknowledged this lineup's need for a left-handed bat.
"When I was growing up when he was playing with Cincinnati I watched him just destroy home runs left and right off the Cardinals so I know he's got the potential to do some damage," Voit said earlier in the week. "I like to pickup, I think it's big for us and I'm excited to learn more about him."
Bruce's impact, however, is poised to extend beyond the power numbers between the lines.
Newly-signed starter Corey Kluber spent the rest of that season in Cleveland with Bruce, on a team that went on a special run into October. Asked on Friday what Bruce can bring to the Yankees' clubhouse, the two-time Cy Young Award winner offered quite possibly the ultimate compliment.
"I think Jay's the perfect example of a professional baseball player," Kluber said. "I think he's one of those guys that's gonna come to the field, whether he's going good or going bad, he's gonna do what he needs to do to get himself prepared for that day."
Yes, Bruce hit .198 last year and is past his prime years with the Reds, but the slugger can help mentor young players and provide manager Aaron Boone with valuable experience off the bench.
Besides, Bruce has wanted to be a Yankee for quite some time now and the organization clearly has had its eye on him for a few years as well. It has the makings of being a perfect match.
"I'm happy to finally be on this side of the line here," Bruce said. "I've been on the receiving end of a lot of good Yankees teams over the years, and I'm happy to be on the side."
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