Ben Franklin said there are two certainties in life, death and taxes. If he were alive today, Franklin would add something about the Reds bullpen and home runs.
Here’s another sure thing: Jay Bruce is going to be traded.
Right?Ã‚Â It’s a lock. In fact, it’s hard to believe a deal hasn’t already happened.
ReportsÃ‚Â last July had the Reds trading Bruce to the Mets. Word this spring was that the Reds right fielder was heading to Toronto. When he and his wife arrived to Goodyear, they said theyÃ‚Â weren’t unpacking their bags. It was an open secret that even though it would be selling low, Jay Bruce was about to be moved. You could read it right there in the Rebuild Binder. It’s own slide in the PowerPoint presentation.
Except Jay Bruce is still in a Reds uniform. And boy, is he hitting. Nearly two months into the 2016 season andÃ‚Â we’re figuring outÃ‚Â how much Bruce has rebuilt his trade value. If he keeps up any semblance of this pace (129 wRC+), it will be theÃ‚Â perfect time to deal him. Bruce’s current contract, including an option year, runs through 2017, which doesn’t make it past the shuttered window of non-compete.
So of course the right move is for the Reds to trade Jay Bruce.
Unless it isn’t.
Instead, what if the Reds offered Jay Bruce a 3-year extension?
Before we decide whether that’s a really crazy idea or just a crazy idea, let’s unwind Bruce’s financial history with the Reds.
The Reds signed Jay Bruce out of West Brook high school with the 12th pick of the 2005 draft. After rocketing through the Reds minor league system,Ã‚Â Baseball America and Baseball ProspectusÃ‚Â ranked him the #1 prospect in baseball after the 2007 season. You could say expectations for him were a bit high. Denver high.
Jay Bruce debuted with the Reds at the tender age of 21 on May 27, 2008. He played for league minimum salary in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
The Reds had waited until May to call him up, so the club still had four years of control over Bruce.Ã‚Â But because the front office didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t wait four more days, Jay Bruce qualified for Super Two arbitration status. That meant he was eligible for arbitration those four years.
To be fair, the cut-off point for Super Two varies from year to year. But the miscalculation – in a year the Reds lost 88 games – cost the team about $14 million, to Bruce’s benefit. That number is based on a comparison of what Bruce earned with what Andrew McCutchen earned, the #11 pick in 2005 who was not a Super Two.
[The Super Two flub with Bruce provides a specific example of whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s at stake in the timing of the permanent call-ups for Jesse Winker, Robert Stephenson and Cody Reed. Last year’s Super Two cut-off was 130 days. A similar Do Not Cash Before date this year would be May 25. Stephenson has already spent 5 days with the Reds, so push his date back accordingly. Peraza’s date to allow another year of team control is June 1.]
But back to Jay Bruce and the winter of 2010. Instead of going to arbitration, the Reds and Bruce reached an agreement on December 10, 2010 in which the club would pay their right-fielder $51 million over six years. Bruce also agreed to a $13 million team option for an additional season. The extension bought two years of Jay BruceÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s free agency and the option covers a third season. Bruce is now playing in the last of those six years, earningÃ‚Â $12.5 million.
That brings us to the present day question: Should the Reds offer Jay Bruce an extension that reaches the time when the club starts playing to win big?
The first and hardest part of answering that question is figuring out what Jay Bruce will be worth. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s difficult because of the variability of BruceÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s value over the past five seasons. His WAR Ã¢â‚¬â€œ using an average of FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference and Baseball Prospectus calculations Ã¢â‚¬â€œ has ranged from 5.0 (2013) to -0.4 (2014).
Making a projection more challenging is that weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not trying to put a number on his 2016 production, or even 2017. For a 3-year extension, we have to estimate Jay BruceÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s value in the years 2018-20. That’s daunting, but necessary. Difficult or not, the front office has to do that calculation whether they plan to trade or keep him. So let’s give it our own back-of-the-envelope, Friday afternoon try.
Jay Bruce is 29 this year. That means a 2018-20 extension would cover his age 31-33 years. That places Bruce on the downside of his aging curve, to be sure, but not the steepest part. One common estimator is that players lose value at an average rate of 10% through age 30, 15% between ages 31-35 and 20% age 36 and beyond. Milage varies, of course.
If you start with a projection of 2.2 WAR for the 2016 season – thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s an average of his past five seasons including his 2014 lost to injury – and use those aging discount figures, Jay Bruce would earn 4.3 WAR from 2018-20. This estimate is clear-eyed. It isn’t based on Silver Slugger, injury-free Jay Bruce. It takes the bad with the good.
How much should the Reds pay for 4.3 WAR over those 3 seasons? A common estimate based onÃ‚Â free agent contracts signed in the past off-season is that clubs paid about $8 million per WAR. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s also the number a member of the Reds front office used a few months ago. That dollar amount increases every year as revenues flood into the sport. Players will get their share.Ã‚Â Using a conservative wage-inflation estimate, 4.3 WAR in 2018-20 would cost about $43 million in a free labor market. You could nit-pick the various components of that number. But $43 million is a better guess than $33 million or $53 million.
So $43 million for Jay Bruce over 3 years – say $13.5 million (2018), $14.5 million (2019) and $15 million (2020).
Would either side sayÃ‚Â no?
Jay Bruce has expressed numerous times that he wants to keep playing for the Reds (although no confirmation since he’s experienced the Ben Franklin bullpen). Bruce could be interested in an extension like this. At age 33, it’s ending point, he could still sign another contract.Ã‚Â On the other hand, Bruce might believe he could find a better long-term deal now, maybe with an American League club.
From the Reds viewpoint the extension could make sense. Power is scarce and Jay Bruce provides it. The only National League player who has hit more home runs since 2010 is Giancarlo Stanton. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be wrong for the Reds to shop or trade Bruce. Based on his 2016 numbers, Bruce has jacked up the return.
Although imagine this blueprint for 2018: Bruce in RF, Jesse Winker in LF, Adam Duvall at 3B (his natural position), Eugenio Suarez at SS (his natural position) and Jose Peraza at 2B. Or something like that, maybe switch Peraza and Suarez. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a bargain-basement plan and not without flaws. But itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a plan.
And it includes keeping Jay Bruce around from 2018-20.Ã‚Â Say, at $43 million for 3 years.