Well, here we are. With Yoenis Cespedes asking for Powerball money, the Detroit Tigers may be looking elsewhere to shore up their glaring corner outfield hole. They have already expressed interest in one of the Colorado Rockies' superfluous outfielders, and have kicked the tires on any number of free agents ranging from Cespedes himself to Dexter Fowler to
oh God don't do it Ryan Raburn.
Some people still aren't satisfied, though. ESPN's Jim Bowden, a former general manager who has never been shy about dreaming up hypothetical trades, put the Tigers in his crosshairs in his latest column. He postulates that the Tigers could strike a deal with the Cincinnati Reds, sending top prospect Michael Fulmer south on I-75 in exchange for outfielder Jay Bruce. Bowden cites the Tigers' righty-heavy lineup (fact) and lackluster left field platoon (double fact) as reasons why the deal could happen, with salary relief and young pitching as major pluses for the Reds.
I know what you're thinking. We're saying the same things, which is why this article isn't titled "Should the Tigers trade for Jay Bruce?" Sure, the 28-year-old could be an upgrade over whatever this outfield turns into, but trading a potential top-50 prospect for a player showing major signs of decline is not a move the Tigers should make.
Still, it's a scenario worth exploring, even if the answer still resembles something akin to the "How About No" Bear.
Why this makes sense to Jim Bowden
Over the past decade, the Tigers have treated their prospects like a rapper treats $1 bills. Their farm system has been among the worst in baseball since trading for Miguel Cabrera in 2007, and they have made no bones about flipping what little young talent they do have for proven major leaguers. Jay Bruce is a proven major league outfielder, and one with two relatively affordable years remaining on his contract. From 2008 to 2013, Bruce hit .257/.330/.482 with at least 21 home runs per year, including three consecutive 30-dinger seasons from 2011 to 2013.
Bruce has gotten worse in nearly every meaningful statistical category over the past two seasons, aside from a "Look what I can do!" uptick in stolen bases. He is hitting .222/.288/.406 in his last 1194 plate appearances. That is good (bad?) enough for a 90 OPS+, or slightly less impressive than what Anthony Gose (91 OPS+) did in his first season in a Tigers uniform. Bruce has seen declines in his walk and strikeout rates, as well as his once-impressive .225 ISO. He has also been among the worst defenders in the game, resulting in -0.8 WAR, trailing only Billy Butler as the worst in baseball (minimum 1,000 plate appearances) over the past two seasons.
To make matters worse, Bowden thinks the Tigers would need to part with their top prospect in order to make the deal happen. The Reds would be right to start trade talks by asking for Fulmer, but would likely settle for a lesser talent in order to clear Bruce's $12.5 million contract (with a $13 million team option for 2017) off their books. Bruce will be cheaper than any of the premier free agents remaining, but less so when you consider the prospect value the Tigers would be giving away.
Fulmer, who was named the Double-A Eastern League Pitcher of the Year in 2015, will likely make his major league debut at some point in 2016. The current rotation is locked up through 2017, but Fulmer is the frontrunner to make a push for innings should anyone falter. Assuming no future trades, the Tigers will get six-plus cost-controlled seasons out of Fulmer compared to two (at most) from Bruce. Even a modest rebound from the 28-year-old outfielder may not outstrip Fulmer's potential production in the rotation.
This trade scenario sounds nice and makes for good column fodder, but falls apart once you look at what Bruce has done over the past two seasons. Add in the major overpay involved on the other side of this deal, and it's one that you should pray never sees the light of day. Luckily, there are still plenty of other options available.