Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Aroldis Chapman and Todd Frazier have all been sent packing in service to the cause of rebuild-reboot-recycle. Depending on how you look at it, add Marlon Byrd, Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon to the discard pile. Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips remain as significant players that could offer the club a positive return.
By virtue of his longevity with the Reds, Phillips has earned the right to refuse any trade. The second baseman apparently exercised it a few weeks ago after the Reds had negotiated a deal with the Washington Nationals. Phillips was looking for an extension to approve the deal, but the Nationals weren’t that interested.
That leaves Jay Bruce. The Reds right fielder turns 29 just before Opening Day. He’s coming off a complicated season that ended with a horrible two-month nosedive.
But, for 66 games – more than 40 percent of the season – Jay Bruce hit like an MVP in 2015. His line of .306/.374/.567 in that period produced a wRC+ of 151. Only three players in the National League had better run production in 2015. Same with Bruce’s isolated power (ISO) during that stretch.
Jay Bruce has an 8-team no-trade clause (Yankees, Red Sox, A’s, Rays, Marlins, Twins, Cleveland and Arizona) in his contract. He is owed $12.5 million in 2016 and has a $13 million club option for 2017.
To provide context for those numbers, teams are paying about $8 million per WAR in the free market this season. So for Bruce to be worth his contract, he’d have to produce 1.5 WAR in 2016. From 2010-2013, Bruce produced 3.5 WAR per year.
Potential trade partners have to figure out what the likelihood is that Bruce can put together another year like 2010-2013, when year-after-year he produced runs at a rate 20 percent above league average.
Bruce’s name has appeared in trade speculation for more than a year. According to press reports, the Reds were close to moving him to the New York Mets last July. There are plenty of fits for Bruce on other teams, particularly with the Los Angeles Angels.
But how urgent is it for the Reds to trade Jay Bruce?
Financial circumstances no longer compel it. The Reds have a large payroll surplus already. It’s not like Bruce is blocking meaningful playing time for young players. The club barely has major league names to write down in left field. Billy Hamilton returns from shoulder surgery.
Unless the Reds get a great offer they should wait to trade Jay Bruce.
As Nick Carrington pointed out, if the skimpy returns for Todd Frazier are any indication, it seems unlikely the Reds will receive a can’t-refuse deal for Bruce. To make matters worse, a glut of outfielders in the free agent and rumored trade market is depressing the potential return. And Bruce’s late-season swoon has raised the risk level for suitors.
We’re not supposed to care about the 2016 team. But if the club is concerned about ticket sales and television ratings, they might want to hold on to Bruce for a while. The 2016 Reds need power. Only 14 players in the NL hit more than 26 home runs last year (Votto and Frazier were two of them). Only 13 players in the NL had a higher ISO than Bruce.
The Reds should see how Jay Bruce hits in April and May. If Bruce gets off to a fast start, it will rebuild his trade value. At that point, a trade partner would still control Bruce for 1.5 years, if they pick up his option.
It would be a big mistake for the Reds to sell low on Jay Bruce for the sake of clubhouse change or out of frustration with his inconsistency.