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.

Don’t believe me? Well, let’s check on how Bruce’s 2015 numbers compare to his career averages 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.

wRC+ BB% K% ISO BABIP OBP AVG fWAR
2015 110 12.7% 21.9% .200 .271 .333 1.1
Career AVG 109 9.6% 24.3% .214 .291 .324 2.2

Notes: Bruce is on pace to surpass his average yearly fWAR in 2015. … Bruce will have a tough time approaching his career average BABIP numbers because of defensive shifts.

Now that we’ve demonstrated 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 has 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. (I’ll explain below.)

Let’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 don’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 won’t turn 29 until next April. He’s still a young man, even though this year — barring injury — will be Bruce’s eighth in the majors in which he’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 can’t envision a situation where the organization waves the white flag on the 2016 campaign 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 isn’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 million vesting option.) Trading Bruce means the club is tying a white flag around the base of the flagpole at Great American Ball Park. Only with a trade of Todd Frazier would the club be metaphorically elevating that white flag high into the sky.

Scenario No. 2: The Reds hold onto Bruce this season, but are more proactive in trade discussions this winter

Let’s think about this scenario from a when-are-the-Reds-going-to-trade-Cueto perspective. If the Reds had traded Cueto at last season’s trade deadline or this past winter, the return would’ve been greater for the Reds than what the the club 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, let’s use the same logic with Bruce. There’s a chance Bruce’s value might never be higher — unfortunately for Bruce (and the Reds), he hasn’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 won’t turn 29 until next April. (As crazy as it sounds, Bruce is over a year younger than Frazier.) 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 with 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 don’t believe 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, but I’d be very hesitant about paying Bruce big money into his 30s.

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
FGraphs $ 30.8M 22.5M 16.1M 31.4M -6.3M 8.7M
Actual Salary 440K 2.79M 5M 7.5M 10M 12M

Notes: FanGraphs’ ‘$’ or ‘Dollars’ stat is based off fWAR and “what a player would make in free agency.” … 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 the upper levels of the Reds’ farm system.

Scenario No. 4: Bruce is traded 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.

Let’s break down who would realistically trade for Bruce (without a package that included Cueto, Leake, or Chapman):

Angels: Two of the Angels’ outfield positions are covered with Mike Trout (center) and Kole Calhoun (right), but Los Angeles is receiving the majors’ worst offensive production from their unremarkable cadre of left fielders. Calhoun hasn’t played left in the bigs since 2012, but making a migration to left would be worth it in order to 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 it’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 enhance their right field situation — though Chris Young has been better than expected and Carlos Beltran has improved over last two months — and add to what’s been one of the majors’ top offenses. Also, Bruce would give the Yanks an impressive defensive outfield, with Brett Gardner in left and Jacoby Ellsbury in center. Lastly, there’s an enticing short right field porch at Yankee Stadium for Bruce to 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. … The Mets need hitting help everywhere, but they’re hamstrung at the corners with Michael Cuddyer and Curtis Granderson. … 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 is 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.

29 Responses

  1. Alex

    Good research.

    Consider that Bob and Walt have dealt the following major leaguers since Walt took over (non-exhaustive): Broxton, Encarnacion, Stubbs, Alonso, Gomes, Volquez, Hanigan, Heisey, Simon, and Latos. The core of Votto/BP/Bruce/Cueto/Leake/Chapman have been together since 2010. Jocketty holds onto those guys like they’re stuffed animals he won at an amusement park.

    Bob remains nostalgic for 2010-12. Don’t plan on any of them leaving by July 31, no matter what their record. They’re all Castellini has left.

  2. Nick Carrington

    If the Reds trade Bruce, they might as well trade Frazier and try to trade Phillips and Votto if at all possible. Without Mesoraco, Frazier, Bruce, and Votto intact for next season, the Reds have zero chance to compete in 2016 and 2017. With those four in place, it’s at least a possibility with an improved bullpen and bench.

    • Nick Carrington

      I would want them to get some value in return which would mean paying for something like $50-$70 million of his deal. If they do that, maybe they get a good prospect and an upside guy. I don’t think they will do that, and I’m not sure there is a good fit out there, so I probably wouldn’t trade Votto at all. But if they are trading either Frazier or Bruce, they might as well explore the possibility that of trading Votto and that contract even if the chance of it happening are slim.

      Maybe they get something done like the Prince Fielder deal where they take back a decent size contract (Kinsler) but the incoming contract is only 3-5 years instead of Votto’s 9-10.

      I would be open to trading anyone. But right now, I like the idea of trading Cueto, Leake, Chapman, Byrd, Pena, Parra, and possibly Phillips and adding talent for 2016-2017.

      What do you think?

      • Adam S.

        Trading votto would be one of my favorite days as a reds fan. I’d gladly take panda back to trade votto.

  3. PDunc

    I think the plan should be to trade Cueto, Leake, Parra and Pena this season as they are coming up on free-agency and should bring back some value in prospects.

    They should trade Phillips if they can get him to agree to a trade and another team to take his contract.

    My first option with Chapman would be to trade him now. He is a great relief pitcher, but I think the salary he will command next season could be better spent elsewhere. If a good trade can’t be found then the front office needs to force Price (or a new manager) to get more value out of him by using him more often and in more high leverage situations.

    Keep the rest of the core of the team intact and do a better job of filling in the roster with free agents and prospects picked up in the Cueto, Leake, etc. trades. A roster that includes Bailey, DeSclafani, Lorenzen, Stephenson, Iglesias, Hoover, Cingrani, Votto, Frazier, Bruce, Mesoraco, Cozart, Phillips, Suarez, Winker, and Barnhardt I think can be competitive in 2016 and 2017 if the remaining roster doesn’t include guys like Marquis, Boesch, Schumaker, and Gregg.

    Pick up the team option on Bruce for 2017. He will then be a free agent after 2017 along with Frazier, Cozart and Phillips (if you can’t trade him before). If the team isn’t a playoff contender at the trade deadline in 2017 those players should be traded then.

  4. Kevin Michell

    Pena could be worth something, in theory. But I’m having a hard time thinking of any contenders that have real issues at catcher. Houston and the Angels, maybe? Obviously, “worth something” doesn’t mean much, but best case you could get a slightly above replacement guy to be a stopgap at one of the positions vacated by another trade for a year or two.

  5. PDunc

    I don’t expect either of them to bring back top-level prospects on their own but I do think that they would be useful additions to a larger trade or maybe bring back a mid to low level prospect on their own.

    • Kevin Michell

      His .367 OBP and 9% walk rate hold value for this season. Plus, no obligation for next year means he’ll cost a team next to nothing. Again, he’s not worth much, but a savvy GM can sell his 2015 to a team that could use him right now.

    • Kevin Michell

      Oh, exactly. Make no misunderstanding, if you get a future Reds team’s 26th or 27th man, a Pena trade is a huge win. What I’m seeing is a possible waiver deadline trade or something. But his form this season means you could try a couple of teams for a warm body with the slightest glimmer of potential and that’s good enough.

  6. John

    i think Bruce stays until after the 2016 season at least. Kyle Waldrop (a much too often forgotten prospect) did well in AA and is doing well so far in AAA. i think he replaces Byrd and Bruce stays to give Winker more time to develop. Waldrop is very good so no need to force winker up to quickly. besides, Bruce’s knee could be like Votto’s. took Votto a year pretty much to get back to full form. just my 2 cents.

  7. Gaffer

    You beat me to that post! A Cueto/Bruce deal seems ideal.

  8. RedAlert

    Don’t worry – he won’t surprise anyone – he can’t operate in today’s modern world of being a functional general manager of a major league franchise – here’s what’s coming at the trade deadline – his “go to ” phrase :
    “Well, we just didn’t find anything out there that we thought would help our ball club” > wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard his crap from Walt recently

  9. Tom Gray

    I think the Reds should trade their entire 25 man roster and bring up half of Louisville AAA and Pensacola AA teams.

  10. CP

    Probably a lot of people freaking out until they figure out trades can still occur through August. Along with the media issuing articles like “OMG the Reds put Brandon Phillips through waivers” (newsflash: the teams put almost everyone through waivers so that they can potentially trade them), it’s pretty much an annual tradition.

  11. Michael E

    Too inconsistent and streaky. If a team comes calling with a nice deal, take it and don’t look back. He also seems to lack hunger/energy (like the rest of the Reds zombies) that is needed in playoffs.

    If we kept Bruce, I wouldn’t stop rooting for the Reds, but we already know what Bruce is, a weak .210 hitting player for four months and a great, all-star like hitter for 10 days or so, twice or three times a season. While he carries the team for a couple of weeks, he then kills the team for the other 20+ weeks.

    • Nick Carrington

      Your timelines are inaccurate based on the information we have available. Let’s take this season. For the first 34 games, Bruce hit very poorly: .162/.272/.333.

      In 43 games since, he has hit .290/.376/.510. So for well over half the season, he has hit at an All Star level. “A couple of weeks” is inaccurate. Try six weeks.

  12. Michael E

    I will be very pissed if Chapman isn’t gone. There is no point in keeping him in the most useless position on the team. We can go two weeks without seeing Chapman, except for the one time he is run out just to “get some work”. What the F? Yeah, no need to keep him for that.

    Trades don’t have to happen now, but Cueto’s value goes down every day (due to expiring deal) he is kept, not to mention the risk of injuries at ANY TIME which will kill all trade value immediately.

    Being patient is one thing, but sometimes in baseball the early bird does get the worm.

  13. Michael E

    Just ask for Correa and be done with it…done deal. Yeesh. If we had traded Cueto last winter, getting a prospect like Correa or Seager or Betts was a bit more likely. Now all the good prospects are called up and not likely to be moved, so sad.

  14. Michael E

    Since Bruce hasn’t had a full good season in sevearal years, I’d say his value won’t ever be fully repaired. If he manages to not start slumping again the next week or two, he will be wanted by a couple of LH hitting, power starved teams. MOVE HIM and don’t lose a second sleep over it.

    Four years ago, I was a Bruce fan and so stoked of what the future held. Then I painfully watched Bruce become a worse hitter each year. He still can’t recognize and hold off on off-speed stuff, and if hasn’t learned by now, he ain’t NEVER gone learn.

    • Nick Carrington

      I’d like to dispute pretty much all your claims with actual evidence. First, Bruce was basically the same hitter from 2010-2013. His consistency was scary. In those years, he has a wRC+ of 124, 119, 120, 117. Basically, the same hitter. He didn’t become a worse hitter over time. The data doesn’t support that at all.

      And his last healthy season (2013) was an excellent season. He was clearly hurt in 2014. Go look at video of his swing. Some good articles out there about how he couldn’t use his legs (and Joey Votto as well). Baseball-reference has 2013 as Bruce’s best season ever with 5.3 WAR. I don’t see how he hasn’t had a good season in years when arguably his best season was his last healthy season.

      You seem to think he strikes out more than he used to because he “can’t hold off on off-speed stuff,” but his strikeout rate is the lowest of any healthy season of his career. He has struck out less in the last six weeks than Todd Frazier. His walk rate is also the highest of his career. So, he appears to be laying off lots of pitches he didn’t in the past.

      Not trying to be argumentative. But the facts don’t back up your claims that well.

      • Michael E

        Maybe I should re-phrase my disappointment. At an age before his prime to well into his prime, there was NO improvement. Batting average is going down, even if power might have ticked up. So, when I say getting worse each year, that by itself is not correct, as you stated. That the best Bruce would ever be would be before his prime, is disappointing. Bruce is what he is, fairly mediocre and most frustratingly too inconsistent to count on…

        No way you when playoff series and titles with hitters like Bruce, that are more likely to be 2-20 with 10 K’s than being 10-20 with 4 HRs and 8 RBIs.

        So, while Bruce isn’t horrible or getting worse (save for last year), he has no chance of ever being more than a .240 hitter here forward, with two month long slumps sandwiched by 10 days of tearing the cover off the ball…not without a change of scenery miracle improvement.

      • Michael E

        Bruce isn’t the worst RF in the game. He probably is in the top half, but he is NOT the type of player you need to win key games. He just can’t hit good pitching, only fat pitches and mistakes. You pitch him on the corners or bounce pitches in the dirt and he is one of the easiest outs on the Reds (and we have quite a few easy outs). The Cards and Giants win due to NOT having hitters like Bruce. They make contact, don’t get themselves out most of the time.

        I just want a change, to hitters that hit, make contact, foul off tough pitches…not hitters that miss tough pitches by 6 inches and head back to the dugout or stair at strike three. Bruce is one of the latter and always has been, sexy 20 row deep HRs here or there aside.

  15. User1022

    A big problem with your analysis is it shows Bruce has “recovered” based on advanced stats.

    You know what a lot of people are going to see when they look at Bruce?

    .238 BA

    Like it or not, people still put a lot of stock into the batting average. And right now, Bruce is hitting below his career batting average (.250). Unless he brings that up a bit more, the Reds might be selling slightly low on Bruce.

    • Adam S.

      I put a lot of stock in batting average and .238 is bad. I would love to trade Bryce for anything.

    • Nick Carrington

      Teams don’t look at batting average. Batting average is probably extremely low on their list of cares. OBP, SLUG, ISO, OPS, wRC+, and many others are FAR more important than batting average. Batting average only matters in how it relates to OBP.

      • Adam S.

        Nick that can be what you value. I will pay attention to the stats I want to value.

      • Adam S.

        I have no clue what ISO or wrc+ means, thus I won’t pay attention to those stats

  16. Art Wayne Austin

    Phillips is my favorite to be traded. He is just not manageable. Recent scenario against Milwaukee: Hamilton gets a walk on 4 pitches, the pitcher is off the plate 2 of three pitches to Brandon, doesn’t look for signal from 3rd base coach for a take sign then slaps a lazy fly to right. He has always played the game like a gifted basketball player, ie, anytime the ball is in play with me involved he is going for it. Just too much prime -time in Brandon.

    • Grant Freking

      Phillips earned 10-and-5 right late last year, meaning he has to approve any trade. Phillips is also 34-years-old and is owed $27 million over the next 2 seasons. No one is paying that kind of money for a player with a declining offensive skill set.