First off, I applaud the argument put forth by Michael Maffie in his post, The Long View on Jay Bruce. Maffie’s statistical analysis likely swayed some of you into thinking Jay Bruce isn’t one of the big problems with this Reds ball club.
I’m on the other side of the fence. I believe the Reds roster is heavily flawed. The payroll is out of whack. Bruce may not be the team’s biggest problem, but trading Jay could fix multiple problems.
Before I dive into why Cincinnati should deal Jay Bruce, let’s rewind the calendar back to October 2011. I know it’s never fun to think about a St. Louis Cardinals postseason run, but just for a few seconds, recall what 3B David Freese did in that postseason as the Cards improbably went from wildcard to world champion. Freese was the NLCS and World Series MVPs. The guy mashed eight doubles, five HRs and knocked in 21 runs in those playoffs. Then in 2012, he was an NL All-Star.
But in 2013, he lost it. Freese went from 20 HR in 2012 to just nine in ’13. He batted under .200 in all three postseason series.
Did the Cardinals wait around to see if he would find it again? No sir. St. Louis dealt him to the Angels for whatever they could get (Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk). One bad season and he’s out the door.
Sure, the situations are not exactly the same. Freese was coming up on arbitration and a possible contract extension. The Cardinals probably had eighteen capable 3rd basemen in their organization to take his place. But the point is: St. Louis probably does not win that World Series without David Freese. That doesn’t change the fact that he wasn’t the same hitter two years later.
Back to Bruce. We know 2014 was an awful season for JB. We know about the injury and the quick comeback. We know about The Shift and we know that Bruce has yet to figure out how to consistently lash that predictable outside corner fastball to the vacated area on the field.
We know that Bruce will be paid $12 million in 2015 on a payroll so bulbous that the Reds felt they had to deal a downright filthy sinkerballer due to make a measly $5.5 million this year (Alfredo Simon). And we know that the 2015 Cincinnati Reds bullpen, minus Aroldis Chapman, is one of the worst pens in baseball this year (and maybe ever!).
Here’s what I’m trying to say: Yes, Bruce is walking more, and yes, his BABIP is abnormally low, and yes, when things start shaking in his favor and he gets on a roll, he’ll create a decent amount of runs. But is the chance that he might turn it around worth 10% of the team’s payroll?
I know the Reds would be selling low right now, but so what? Trading Bruce would be about freeing up payroll so maybe the front office can creatively re-stock the bullpen with reliable arms. Deal him for two minor leaguers and a viable reliever. Somebody with a history of fixing hitters (Toronto) or who has a powerless outfield could be talked into a deal. For the trading partner, it would basically be a $25.5 million (minus what he’s been paid so far this year) gamble that Bruce will get back on track at some point over the next two seasons.
As for what to do about right field, hold an open tryout for your top prospects. See what Brennan Boesch can do with regular ABs. If Bruce’s WAR is a net -0.8 over 2014-15, then an average replacement would actually help the team. (And who knows, maybe Jesse Winker’s ready…)
Beyond that, I just think it’s time. I understand he’s a great ambassador for the organization, he gives back to the community and he works really hard. But the question I always ask in these types of situations is this: What would the Cardinals do? I think we allÃ‚Â know the answer.