The Cincinnati Reds were not very good last season, and their window might be closing. Coming off a 76-86 season, the Reds face an uphill climb in the National League Central. Their top four starters are all in their final year of club control, and their two biggest stars are on the wrong side of 30. So, naturally, they're looking to trade the one productive guy they have in his 20s.
As odd as that sounds, the Reds could get the most bang for their buck by trading outfielder Jay Bruce. Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported last week that they have already begun listening on offers, and Jon Morosi tweeted that the Toronto Blue Jays were quite interested. One problem for the Jays: Bruce has them on his limited no-trade clause list. The Tigers are not on said list and could use an outfielder. Are they a potential fit?
*2015 Steamer projection
Who is he?
An old-school slugger in every sense of the term, power is Jay Bruce's game. He was a first round pick by the Reds in the 2005 draft and debuted in 2008 with 21 home runs and a .767 OPS in 452 plate appearances. He followed that up with 22 home runs in another part-time role in 2009 before taking over right field for the Reds full-time in 2010. Bruce hit at least 25 home runs in each of the next four seasons, and drove in a combined 305 runs from 2011 to 2013. He battled a knee injury throughout 2014, which may have contributed to an awful -1.1 WAR season.
Why should we care?
Did I mention that Bruce has power? He hit 20 home runs in each of his first six seasons, and it took a midseason knee surgery to halt the streak in 2014. He has a career .216 ISO and has topped the 20 double plateau in each of the past five seasons. He doesn't hit for average -- Bruce has just one season with a batting average above .262 -- but still has a career .467 slugging average and draws walks at a 9.3 percent rate. A .323 on-base percentage would not be ideal at the top of the Tigers' lineup, but is more than adequate if Bruce were slotted in the middle of the batting order.
If that doesn't sound appealing enough, consider Bruce's contract. He is due a combined $25 million over the next two seasons with a $13 million team option for the 2017 season. This isn't ideal given the Tigers' current payroll concerns, but is a bargain if Bruce can resume the 3-4 WAR production he provided from 2010 to 2013. Bruce will only be 28 years old on Opening Day in 2015, meaning he is on a team-friendly contract through his prime seasons. He may cost an extra penny or two to obtain, but could provide plenty of surplus value once he's here.
Why should we stay away?
While the Great American Ballpark isn't exactly Coors Field, it is still a very hitter-friendly venue. Because of this, Bruce's career home/road splits are somewhat concerning. He is a stellar .258/.335/.507 hitter at home, but is hitting just .245/.312/.428 in other venues in his seven year career. It's not just batting average, either. Bruce walks at a higher rate and has a much higher ISO at home. A 101 point difference in OPS isn't completely due to the small dimensions of GABP, but they likely play a role in the differential.
Bruce's 2014 season is also a concern. Knee surgery or not, power hitters don't just fall off the map when they turn 27 years old. Bruce was the fourth-worst qualified position player in baseball last year with -1.1 WAR. He was a negative player both offensively and defensively after contributing positively on both sides of the ball in 2013. His negative WAR season resulted in a five (!) win swing from 2013 to 2014, and was one of the biggest reasons why the Reds lost 14 more games than the season before.
Will he end up in Detroit?
I don't see this one happening unless the Reds become absolutely smitten with someone like Steven Moya or Eugenio Suarez. Bruce is a good power hitter on a team-friendly contract in the prime of his career. The Reds don't have to trade him, and doing so might indicate that they are planning on a full rebuild after 2015. I wouldn't doubt that Dave Dombrowski could pull this one off, but the pieces don't quite add up at the moment.