Jay Bruce has emerged from the depths of a nightmare April (.181/.310/.403) and has performed well enough from May until the present day to rebuild most — if not all — of whatever trade value he may have lost during his disastrous 2014 campaign.
DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t believe me? Well, letÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s check on how Bruce’s 2015 numbers compare to his career averagesÃ‚Â in terms of weighted runs created plus (wRC+), walk rate (BB%), strikeout rate (K%), isolated power (ISO), batting average on balls in play (BABIP), on-base percentage (OBP) and his average yearly FanGraphs WAR (fWAR) over the course of his career.
Notes: Bruce is on pace to surpass his average yearly fWAR in 2015. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Bruce will have a tough time approaching his career average BABIP numbers because of defensive shifts.
Now that weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve demonstratedÃ‚Â that the Jay Bruce of Yesteryear has (mostly) returned, what should the Reds do with their reestablished asset? Keep him? Trade him? Simply wait? Give him another contract extension?
Bruce is owed $12 million this year, $12.5 million in 2016, and hasÃ‚Â a $13 million team option ($1 million buyout) in 2017. Believe it or not, provided Bruce is healthy, those salary numbers are around fair value. (IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll explain below.)
LetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s run through four scenarios I could see playing out with the Reds and Bruce over the next year and a half. Scenarios are ranked from most likely to happen to least likely to occur:
Scenario No. 1: The Reds hold onto Bruce through at least the 2016 season
I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think the Reds will trade Bruce unless someone overwhelms them — original thought, I know — or Cincinnati packages Bruce with Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman or Mike Leake in order to facilitate a bigger return from another club. Something to keep in mind: Bruce wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t turn 29 until next April. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s still a young man, even though this year — barring injury — will be BruceÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s eighth in the majors in which heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s played at least 100 games.
And while the Reds may sell Cueto (almost certainly), Leake (probably), and Chapman (will have to be a mammoth offer), and will likely try to move less attractive pieces (Marlon Byrd, Manny Parra, Brayan Pena), I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t envision a situation where the organization waves the white flag on the 2016 campaignÃ‚Â eight months before the onset of spring training. (Anyone familiar with Bob Castellini’s widely-reported competitive streak knows that banality.)
Trading Cueto, Leake, Chapman, Byrd, Parra, and Pena isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t waving the white flag because all but one of those players (Chapman) will be free agents at the conclusion of this year. (The Reds won’t be the ones to let Byrd qualify for his $8 millionÃ‚Â vesting option.) Trading Bruce means the club is tying a white flagÃ‚Â around the base of the flagpole at Great American Ball Park. Only with a trade of Todd Frazier would the club be metaphorically elevatingÃ‚Â that white flagÃ‚Â high into the sky.
Scenario No. 2: The Reds hold onto Bruce this season, but are more proactive in trade discussions thisÃ‚Â winter
LetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s think about this scenario from a when-are-the-Reds-going-to-trade-Cueto perspective. If the Reds had traded Cueto at last seasonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s trade deadline or this past winter, the return wouldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been greater for the Reds than what the the clubÃ‚Â will receive at some point over the next month because team acquiring Cueto would have had him for the rest of 2014 as well as 2015 (if Cueto would have been traded last season) or for all of 2015 (if Cueto had been traded over the offseason.) Of course, dear reader, you knew that.
So, letÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s use the same logic with Bruce. ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a chance BruceÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s value might never be higher — unfortunately for Bruce (and the Reds), he hasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t exactly set a high bar for himself over the past year and a half — so the Reds could capitalize and deal Bruce now, and the team netting Bruce has him for this year, next year, and 2017 if the acquiring team was inclined to pick up his option.
More likely: The Reds wait, see what happens through the first four months of 2016, and put Bruce on the market again this time next year if the club is once again toiling in mediocrity (or worse). If Bruce is traded at the deadline next year, the acquiring team could choose to keep him at a tidy price of $13 million for 2017.
Scenario No. 3: Bruce stays healthy and productive, and the Reds approach him about a contract extension this coming offseason
As I already stated, Bruce wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t turn 29 until next April. (As crazy as it sounds, Bruce is over a year younger than Frazier.)Ã‚Â In November of 2012, Bruce wanted to add six years to his current contract, but a lot has changed with the franchise since then. What if the Reds approach Bruce with an extension — say beginning withÃ‚Â the 2017 season — of three years and around $12-15 million per season, with a team option for a fourth season that includes a corresponding (and respectable) buyout?
I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t believeÃ‚Â handing Bruce another extension is a prudent investment. Aside from fracturing his wrist on a freak play in 2009 and his knee injury last year, Bruce has been the pinnacle of good health. As the forthcoming table indicates, Bruce has been worth every penny the Reds have paid him over the years,Ã‚Â but I’d be very hesitant about paying Bruce big money into his 30s.
Notes: FanGraphsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ ‘$’ or ‘Dollars’ stat is based off fWAR and Ã¢â‚¬Å“what a player would make in free agency.Ã¢â‚¬Â Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ K=thousand, M=million.
The Reds have to be honest with themselves about where they see the club over the next few years. If they think they can get back into contention by 2017, maybe the Reds should hold onto Bruce past his current contract. Remember: aside from Jesse Winker, there’s a major shortage of impact hitting prospects in theÃ‚Â upper levels of the Reds’ farm system.
Scenario No. 4: Bruce is tradedÃ‚Â before the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31
A major caveat in any potential Bruce trade is that the Beaumont Bomber can reportedly block a trade to eight teams: the Athletics, Blue Jays, Diamondbacks, Marlins, Rays, Red Sox, Yankees, and Twins.
LetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s break down who would realistically trade for Bruce (without a package that included Cueto, Leake, or Chapman):
Angels: Two of the AngelsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ outfield positions are covered with Mike Trout (center) and Kole Calhoun (right), but Los Angeles is receiving the majorsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ worst offensive production from their unremarkable cadre of left fielders. Calhoun hasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t played left in the bigs since 2012, but making a migration to leftÃ‚Â would be worth it in order toÃ‚Â clear space for Bruce in right.
Royals: Alex Rios (-0.4 fWAR) is not working out in right field and the offense could use an injection of power. Also, Bruce would be nice insurance for the Royals next year, as itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s up on the air as to whether All-Star left fielder Alex Gordon will pick up his a $14 million player option for 2016.
Yankees: Bruce would have to waive his no-trade clause in order to be shipped to the Bronx, but he would immediately enhanceÃ‚Â their right field situation — though Chris Young has been better than expected and Carlos Beltran has improved over last two months — and add to whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been one of the majorsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ top offenses. Also, Bruce would give the Yanks an impressive defensive outfield, with Brett Gardner in left and Jacoby Ellsbury in center. Lastly, thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s anÃ‚Â enticing short right field porch at Yankee Stadium for Bruce toÃ‚Â consider.
Best of the rest (in alphabetical order): The Giants are extremely thin at the corners with Nori Aoki (fibula) and Hunter Pence (wrist) on the shelf, but both are expected back this season. If either Aoki or The Human Meme suffers a major setback, however, the Giants become much more viable as a potential trade partner. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ The Mets need hitting help everywhere, but theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re hamstrung at the corners with Michael Cuddyer and Curtis Granderson. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ The Nationals are similar to the Giants: if Jayson Werth — who has battled wrist problems all season — has complications, Bruce could be a target.
And the verdict is…
I think the Reds will wait until next July to seriously consider trading Bruce, especially since legitimate reports and unsubstantiated rumors alike seem to indicate the front office isÃ‚Â far more focused on listening to trade offers for Cueto, Leake, and Chapman. I also keep coming back to the Reds not wanting to go full rebuild and giving up on the 2016 season eight months before spring training.