A while back when Jay Bruce’s agent made it known that he’d like to finish his career in Cincinnati, there was a brief spurt of press coverage followed by silence once Jocketty basically said, “We’ll cross that bridge when we have to.” But I kept wondering about it, and I thought it would be interesting to look at how long Bruce is likely to be a good player. In looking at extending him, we’re basically talking about his age 31-35 seasons. These are declining seasons, but that doesn’t mean an extension is a bad idea. There are other factors to consider.
Certainly, you don’t want to pay market rate for a player’s declining years if you can help it. But the Reds current option for 2017 is only for $13M. Presumably, any additional years would be in that neighborhood, which is already a discount.
Also, the last year of the proposed extension will be 10 years from now. Baseball salaries have grown by 40%, give or take, in the last ten years. So, in today’s money, paying 35-year-old Jay Bruce $13M in 2022 is likely to be roughly equivalent to an $9M salary today.
But that assumes salary inflation stays at it’s recent levels. There has been a lot of new money flowing into baseball lately, and it has been widely speculated that salaries will grow rapidly over the next several years. If that’s the case, $13M in 2022, might be equivalent to something like $7M today.
Given the likely salary inflation over the next decade, it seems fair to say that if Bruce is extended at roughly the same money for the 2018-22 seasons, he only needs to be an average player to be worth it, and maybe not even that.
This is where we have to dust off our crystal ball and make a guess. In the interest of being totally unscientific, I have grabbed from Baseball-Reference the 10 most similar batters to Jay Bruce through age 25 and looked at their age 31-35 seasons for comparison. Let’s start at the top…
1. Reggie Jackson
How Similar Are They, Really? It’s not an unreasonable comparison. Jackson was significantly better than Bruce owing to the more offensively depressed era.
Ages 31-35: Jackson was an excellent player for four of those years, with a down year at 35.
2. Tom Brunansky
How Similar Are They, Really? Fairly. Bruce was a tick better.
Ages 31-35: A cautionary tale here. Brunansky had his last good year at 31 and played his last game at 33.
3. Jack Clark
How Similar Are They, Really? This is an interesting comparison. Clark was a better hitter than Bruce, but he was also a fragile player.
Ages 31-35: These were some of Clark’s best years. He suddenly started taking more walks and it made him into even more of a force than he had been. He was a great player during these years.
4. Darryl Strawberry
How Similar Are They, Really? Not very. Strawberry is the classic “what might have been.”
Ages 31-35: Strawberry was barely on the field. When he did play, he was solid.
5. Jeff Burroughs
How Similar Are They, Really? It’s hard to say. Burroughs had some great years and some mediocre years. I see the comparison, but it’s a strange one.
Ages 31-35: Burroughs was done after his age 34 season and didn’t play a full season after turning 27. When he did play, he was still good.
6. Willie Horton
How Similar Are They, Really? This seems like a very apt comparison to me. Horton was just a tick better when you account for the era, but the numbers are pretty similar.
Ages 31-35: Horton was probably about what you’d hope for out of Bruce during this period. He was hurt a fair bit, but when he was on the field he was very solid.
7. Adam Dunn
How Similar Are They, Really? Not very. Dunn was and is just a different hitter than Bruce.
Ages 31-35: Dunn just finished his age-32 season, and he’s looking like he might be done in a few years, but the jury is still out here.
8. Barry Bonds
How Similar Are They, Really? haha
Ages 31-35: hahahahahahaha
9. Boog Powell
How Similar Are They, Really? Powell was very up and down, but he was better than Bruce overall.
Ages 31-35: During his age-31-33 seasons, he was good enough to justify any extension Bruce would likely get, but he played his last game at 35.
10. Harold Baines
How Similar Are They, Really? Bruce strikes out more and has a bit more power, but otherwise, this is a solid offensive comparison, especially when you look only at Baines’ early years.
Ages 31-35: Baines was a late-bloomer and it’s fair to say his peak as started at 30. If Bruce hits like Baines did during this period, it would be fantastic.
Most of these players would have been worth any contract Bruce would get. However, there are a few scary performances in there. Still, giving Bruce an extension seems unlikely to seriously bite the Reds. What it really comes down to is cost certainty. It’s very possible that Bruce breaks out in the next few seasons and becomes much more expensive. You can make a case either way, but extending Bruce now shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand as it seems to have been by the Reds’ brass.