Sep 6, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds right fielder Jay Bruce (32) reacts after striking out during the third inning against the New York Mets at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports
The Cincinnati Reds front office seem to be as confused about the team’s immediate future as fans are, and Thursday’s rumor mill only added to that perception. According to Ken Rosenthal at Fox Sports, the Reds are “listening” to trade proposals for right fielder Jay Bruce. If Bruce leaves the Riverfront, then we have to consider the Reds to be in full rebuild mode, and here’s why.
As we’ve heard, and said, a thousand times, the Reds’ most glaring weaknesses in 2014 included middle relief, left field, and probably most significantly, offense. Bruce was part of the problem at the plate, as his numbers drooped to 18 homers and 66 runs batted in, with a slash line of .218/.281/.373, all career-worsts. He also played in just 137 games, which was at the heart of Bruce’s problems.
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Often overlooked among the scrap pile of the Reds’ 2014 season is the fact that Bruce underwent knee surgery in May, a time when fans were still trying to gauge the team, and many were focused on Joey Votto’s health and Billy Hamilton’s struggles. Jay, meanwhile, had his surgery and then came back, but he was never really right. And while I usually see missed games one season as a red flag of sorts for the next, Jay has a track record of health that suggests he will probably be much better in 2015. At just 28 next year, Bruce is one year removed from a string of four straight seasons in which he played 148+, culminating in a 160-game performance in 2013 that featured 30 home runs, 109 RBI and a 120 OPS+.
Bruce is also under contract for $12.5 million for each of the next two seasons, with a $13 million club option for 2017.
The Reds are not likely to find his level of production for those wages in the short term, unless they get lucky with a prospect, or unless they can trade for a very young, emerging Major League star. In other words, trading Bruce is VERY unlikely to help Cincinnati win more games in 2015, but it could help them get better in the long run. In order to really go into any deal with the right mindset of getting the most value possible in return for Bruce, the front office needs to be focused on what the team would look like two or three years from now, and they have to answer the question: will this (proposed) deal make us better in 2016 or 2017 than we would be if we just keep Bruce?
Trading Johnny Cueto would hurt the current Reds, but they have other pitching talent available and could at least tell us with a straight face that they still planned to be competitive in 2014.
Trading Jay Bruce would rob the team of even more offensive firepower, the one commodity that every team is hungry to acquire. It would be a move for the long-term future, not next season. And if Bruce goes, then we have to start to ponder who is next.