One week out from the July 31 trade deadline, the Reds have yet to make a deal. That should change soon. Reports have circulated that the club is in trade discussions with several teams regarding Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake, players who will leave the Reds at the end of this season. They offer little remaining value to the Reds given the standings. But rumors about the Reds willingness to trade Jay Bruce have continued. Under his current contract, Bruce could provide Reds value through the end of 2017. Trading their starting right fielder represents a more perilous step than renting out Cueto and Leake.

The Rumors

Jay Bruce has been linked in recent trade talks with the Royals, Angels, Mets and Orioles. And those are just the discussions that leaked. With this much smoke, Jay Bruce, you’re fired is a real possibility.

Rumors about trading Bruce actually began in the off-season. In the context of a major salary dump – one that saw the club unload Jonathan Broxton, Mat Latos, Alfredo Simon and Chris Heisey – it made sense given the budget constraint.

I wrote at the time the Reds should have considered a bank shot where they traded Jay Bruce for a pitcher (Tyson Ross) and then traded one of the starting pitchers (Johnny Cueto or Mat Latos) for a major league-ready young outfielder. Use the money they saved for a second outfielder. That would have made sense as a way to get younger and cheaper while still competing all-out in 2015.

On the other hand, the Reds would have been trading low. Bruce had suffered the worst year of his career in 2014. His injury and abbreviated rehab were one explanation, but others thought Bruce’s career had collapsed for good.

Now that Bruce’s rebound in production should have settled that debate, why are the Reds still apparently so eager to trade him?

The Reason

Yesterday, Jim Bowden gave a 7-minute interview to Cincinnati radio personality Mo Egger. Bowden discussed trade deadline issues related to the Reds – most of his opinions were encouraging for the hometown team.

Egger asked Bowden about the widespread rumors (Heyman, Rosenthal) that the club was making Jay Bruce available. Were they true, and if so, why would the Reds be eager to trade their right fielder?

“I don’t think they’re happy with the production they’ve gotten overall for what they’re paying,” said the Reds former GM. Bowden twice used the phrase “good possibility” in describing the chance Bruce gets moved in the next week.

Not happy with the production for what they are paying.

Caveat: Jim Bowden is Jim Bowden. Who knows whether he’s got this right. Bowden claims to have spoken with a half dozen general managers about it, including two the night before. It’s credible that he has those contacts. He also seems to agree with the Reds on this judgment, so why exaggerate or fabricate?

But if that’s really what the Reds think – they aren’t happy with Jay Bruce’s production for what they are paying – then they don’t know how to evaluate baseball players.

The Numbers

Jay Bruce has provided consistent, excellent offensive production since 2010, with the exception of his injury-plagued 2014 season. And his production in 2015 has reinforced the notion that 2014 was an outlier due to injury. It was always unlikely that given stable above-average production from 2011-2013, a player at age 27 would suffer such a sudden and unexplained collapse. Jay Bruce hadn’t really lost the ability to hit a fastball overnight.

To the contrary, in 2015 Bruce has reversed the decline in plate command that he’d experienced prior to 2014. His strikeout rate had been moving in the wrong direction since 2010, same with his swing-and-miss rate. Bruce’s walk rate, while remaining above league average, had also fallen from 2011 to 2013. But in 2015, Jay Bruce has the highest walk-rate of his career and lowest strikeout rate since 2009. He’s reduced his strikeouts from 27 percent to 23 percent.

Beyond the fundamentals, look at the results:

  • Home Runs Jay Bruce hit at least 30 home runs each year from 2011-2013. Here is the complete list of other National League players to do that:
  • Extra-base Hits In 2012, Bruce was third in extra base hits (NL) and seventh in all of baseball. He repeated that in 2013 when he was 2nd in extra base hits (NL) and fourth in baseball.
  • Runs Batted In For those of you who care about such things, Jay Bruce averaged 102 RBI from 2011-2013.
  • Rate Stats Bruce’s current on-base percentage (.338) is well above league average (.314) as is his slugging percentage (.457 vs. .390) and isolated power (.220 vs. .137).
  • Peer Recognition Jay Bruce won the Silver Slugger award for right fielders twice, determined by major league coaches and managers, and given to the best hitter at that position in the league. He’s a two-time All-Star, selected by the players vote.
  • Consistency As Mike documented this morning, Jay Bruce’s reputation as a streaky hitter is misplaced. In fact, his total contribution to runs scored has been crazy-stable since 2010 (124, 119, 120, 117) excluding 2014. His 2015 wRC+ right now is 119.

The bottom line is that Jay Bruce is 20 percent better than league average in producing runs. He has been since 2010. He is 28 years old.

The Value

The production is there. How does it compare to what the Reds are paying Jay Bruce?

Bruce is earning $12 million this year, has agreed to play for $12.5 million next year and the Reds have a team option for $13 million for 2017. Through the end of 2015, the Reds will have paid Jay Bruce $38 million.

On the open market, what he has produced would have been worth $125 million, and that includes the negative numbers from 2014 (using an average of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference).

In 2015, Bruce has already provided open-market value of $12 million (FanGraphs).

When you look at production and what he’s being paid, Jay Bruce continues to provide the Reds a great return on their money.

The Parallel with Frazier

In the business world everything and everyone has a price. For a baseball team to say publicly that a player is “off the table” for trade discussions is misplaced sentimentalism or pure public relations.

Sure, there are certain players for whom the value – either on the field or as the identity of your team, or both – is so high in the eyes of the organization, that it becomes nearly impossible to contemplate trading. But those players still have a price.

I’m in the camp that believes the Reds should not give up on 2016 and 2017. With the position player core of Frazier, Bruce, Mesoraco and Votto, the Reds have the punch to score runs. With smart additions, I believe the team can bounce back and contend next year.

But I understand the view that is skeptical the young pitching will arrive in time to be competitive in 2016.

Jay Bruce (28) and Todd Frazier (29) offer substantial and about equal value for the Reds in their remaining two years of team control. Absent a Godfather offer, I would hold on to both of them for now. They can be traded later, when the Reds situation and chances to compete become clearer. That can be this off-season, or the next trade deadline, or the next off-season or the trade deadline two years from now.

What I don’t get is the vastly different way the Reds have approached Bruce and Frazier with respect to the trade market. Jay Bruce is widely available. But Walt Jocketty says he wouldn’t trade Todd Frazier.

Yet the case for and against trading Todd Frazier is roughly the same as it is for Jay Bruce. Both players have contracts with team control through 2017. Both players offer well above average offensive performance and steady defense.

If the Reds have decided to BLOW! IT! UP! and target 2018, I get why they would want to trade Jay Bruce now. I don’t agree with the premise, but I understand it. But in that case, they should also be open to trading Todd Frazier, which, if you believe their public statements, they aren’t.


The people in our lives who are most capable of deeply disappointing us tend to be those for whom we have the highest expectation. They have the farthest to fall in our eyes.

I’ve always believed this is why Reds fans have never fully appreciated the major league version of Jay Bruce. We began the relationship with sky-high hopes and he’s fallen short. Jay Bruce is 20 percent better than average and our dreams had him at 50 percent.

Bruce appeared in our collective consciousness for the first time in 2005 when he was drafted by the Reds out of high school. He was the #12 pick overall in the first round of the amateur draft. Jay Bruce crushed the minor leagues and we crushed on him. Heading into the 2008 season, the youngster from Beaumont, Texas was ranked the #1 prospect in baseball by Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus.

At age 21. That’s a lot to live up to.

The comparison with Joey Votto hasn’t helped. We noticed Jay Bruce wasn’t putting up the numbers we anticipated from the best player in the game around the same time his teammate was winning the 2010 National League MVP award.

For whatever reason – maybe the same case of unmet high expectations – Marty Brennaman has provided a steady drumbeat of criticism of the Reds right fielder. That’s the powerful voice of the Reds nightly reinforcing our concerns about Jay Bruce’s unreached potential.

The bottom line is that Reds fans haven’t fallen in love with Jay Bruce the way they have with other players. Segments of our fan base have taken to Todd Frazier or Joey Votto or  Brandon Phillips or Billy Hamilton or Johnny Cueto or Aroldis Chapman or others. But not Jay Bruce. That may make it easier for the club to trade him.

I’m not saying the Reds shouldn’t be having discussions with other clubs about trading Jay Bruce. And it’s not a given they will end up moving him. They didn’t last off-season. But there is reason to be worried that they’re doing it for the wrong reason and at the wrong price.