Jay Bruce Might Finally Get Traded

Jay Bruce’s tenure with the Reds has reached the kids in the back seat asking “Are we there, yet?” stage. It feels like he should have been traded a while ago, yet here is, again a trade target and again a player Cincinnati can move to help its rebuilding process. The team has a $13 million option on Bruce for next year, so they theoretically still control him for another year and a half. That said, now is really the time the Reds need to trade him.

Figuring out when the Reds could have traded Bruce isn’t difficult. Determining if they should have is more so. Jay Bruce signed his current contract back before the 2011 season. The deal guaranteed him $51 million, buying out his arbitration years and potentially three years of free agency. The Reds were coming off a division-winning season, and while the 2011 season was disappointing, the team made the playoffs in 2012 and 2013. Heading into the 2014 season, the Reds had reasonable expectations of contending.

That edition of the Reds featured one of the best players in baseball, Joey Votto; a still decent Brandon Phillips; a nice, young player in Todd Frazier; and promising guys like Devin Mesoraco and Billy Hamilton, who were potentially ready to step forward. With a rotation of Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, and Alfredo Simon — and Tony Cingrani with Aroldis Chapman in the ninth — the team looked like it might have a decent shot at postseason contention. At the very least, there wasn’t the obvious need to blow things up and rebuild. The 2014 season proceeded to become a bit of a disaster, however. Votto got hurt, Phillips got worse, Bailey and Latos couldn’t pitch full seasons, and Jay Bruce had the worst year of his career, putting up a wRC+ of 78, a 40-point drop from his previous four seasons.

While the Reds probably could have gotten off to an earlier start in the rebuilding process, the club was also scheduled to host the All-Star Game last season. That almost certainly influenced their decision to keep the team together through the first half, before unloading Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake. Even if they had started to rebuild ahead of the 2014 season, it’s not clear that Jay Bruce would have been an attractive trade candidate. Still owed $25.5 million, Bruce was coming off a dreadful season where he’d been worth a win below replacement level. Letting Bruce hit and rebuild his value was probably the right decision.

Bruce did hit and rebuild his value last year for a time. On July 30, he’d recorded a line of .257/.341/.486, good for a wRC+ of 120 and right in line with his 2010-2013 seasons. From the middle of May through the trade deadline, Bruce was on a tear, hitting .305/.376/.562 with a wRC+ of 150 in 266 plate appearances. It seemed like the perfect moment to trade him, but Cincinnati held on. The market was a difficult one for teams with outfielders to move. Cespedes was traded to Mets, but the Rockies held on to Carlos Gonzalez, and the Padres apparently didn’t feel that any offers they received for Justin Upton were going to be better than draft-pick compensation. It’s quite possible that any offers the Reds did receive weren’t particularly great.

The Reds’ decision to hold on to Bruce looked like a huge mistake the rest of the season, as Bruce hit .178/.219/.357 with a 45 wRC+ during the second half. Bruce had leg troubles in 2014 that could have contributed to his poor 2014 campaign, and it’s possible that the grind of a long season sapped some of his strength — especially his ability to go to the opposite field — as the 2015 season drew to a close. In any event, the finish couldn’t have helped Bruce’s trade value, as several deals fell through during a winter in which many outfielders were available in free agency. Bruce once again started the season with the Reds.

So here we are again, heading toward the trade deadline, and Bruce is once again hitting the ball very well. He has 17 homers and a .278/.325/.574 line (131 wRC+), which should make him enticing for a team in need of a bat at the deadline. This past winter, August Fagerstrom discussed Bruce’s lack of opposite-field power and compared Bruce’s spray chart from 2012-2013 to the same thing from 2014-2015, showing a lack of home runs to left. Here’s Bruce’s spray chart again, this time comparing the 2014-2015 season to 2016.

Screenshot 2016-06-28 at 9.59.48 AM

Nothing too definitive here, but it looks like Bruce already has as many home runs to the left half of the park this season as he did in 2014 and 2015 combined. Bruce is pulling the ball more overall, but he’s hit a few more line drives to the opposite field compared to years past. That isn’t predictive but could be an indication that he’s doing a better job of taking what the pitcher gives him.

That Bruce, still just 29 years old, is on a good run right now shouldn’t be that surprising. However, what would also be unsurprising is an upcoming cold spell that will take much of his trade value. The chart below shows Bruce’s rolling wRC+ over the past five years over 54-game stretches. When we look at all players, they tend to have peaks and valleys, especially over shorter periods. Using one-third of the season is a decent stretch, and Bruce’s peaks and valleys appear more pronounced than other players.

Screenshot 2016-06-28 at 8.23.56 AM

In each of the past three seasons, Bruce has experienced a period lasting one-third of the season where he has been a pretty poor hitter. While on-base percentage is going to have a strong correlation with overall production, if you want to know if Bruce is doing well, look at his power numbers. His success is closely tied with his power.

Screenshot 2016-06-28 at 8.30.11 AM

If Bruce is hitting for power, he’s producing. If not, we see the 2014 season and the end of the 2015 season. He’s not going to sustain his current level of production consistently. As for the fielding side of things, that’s another concern: Bruce isn’t what he once was in the field, but he’s also not likely as bad as defensive metrics make him out to be this season. He might fit better as a designated hitter, but even with the positional adjustment, that would put him as an average to slightly below-average player with modest hitting projections (108 wRC+).

With so many teams in contention and a weak free-agent market upcoming, the Reds should make sure they’re not again trying to deal Bruce from a position of weakness. It appears now they have gotten a bit lucky after failing to deal him in the past, and quick searches of the internet suggest that the Dodgers, Giants and the entire AL Central are interested right now. If the Reds hesitate again, they might end up with a slumping player of very little value to them or the rest of the league.





Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

newest oldest most voted
jpg
Member
Member
jpg

Well both Reds and Padres dropped the ball at the deadline last year by not getting Michael Fulmer. Cespedes was the Mets fourth choice behind Carlos Gomez, Upton and Bruce.

jdbolick
Member

I find it extremely hard to believe that the Mets would have preferred Bruce over Cespedes.

rdt
Member
Member
rdt

Harder to believe than Trevor Story’s ceiling possibly being greater than Khalil Greene?

jdbolick
Member

You are nursing that grudge like a champ, but I would advise against rubbing that in my face until I’m actually proven wrong. If it happens, I’ll admit it and you can mock me to your heart’s content.

rdt
Member
Member
rdt

I welcome all opinions, I just haven’t seen such stubbornness in a while in terms of someone assuming that they’re right and telling the majority that they are completely wrong; it has stuck in my head for this reason, mainly for the tone in which you articulated yourself. I apologise profusely for my previous comment 🙂

SeattleBlue
Member
Member
SeattleBlue

Cespedes was a FA to be, whereas Bruce was under contract for two more team-friendly years, adding to his value at the time.

jdbolick
Member

I don’t see how $24.5 million over two seasons committed to a guy coming off of a -0.9 WAR performance the previous year would add value. If anything it would subtract value.