JULY 27: The Mariners are among the teams that have reached out the Reds to inquire about Bruce, Crasnick reports today (Twitter link). Seattle’s offseason addition of Nori Aoki has yet to pay dividends, causing the Mariners to rely more heavily on Franklin Gutierrez and Nelson Cruz in the outfield than the team initially expected.
JULY 26: The Reds have “picked up the pace” on trade talks surrounding slugging right fielder Jay Bruce and are talking to “at least” four teams, according to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick (Twitter link). Cincinnati is seeking a top prospect in exchange for Bruce, who is in the midst of an outstanding rebound campaign at the plate.
Bruce, 29, underwent arthroscopic knee surgery early in the 2014 season and never looked like himself upon his return that year or in 2015. Over those two seasons, Bruce batted a paltry .222/.288/.406 with a combined 44 home runs, submarining a great deal of his trade value in the process (though Cincinnati still nearly moved him to Toronto in Spring Training). The 2016 season, however, has yielded a revitalized version of Bruce that is slashing an excellent .272/.326/.564 with 23 homers, 22 doubles and six triples. His 20.6 percent strikeout rate is the second-lowest of his career, and 20.9 percent homer-to-flyball ratio and 37.5 percent hard-contact rate are the best single-season marks he’s ever posted.
Where Bruce has seemingly struggled, though, is on the outfield grass. Despite sporting a park- and league-adjusted batting line that is 29 percent above league average, per wRC+, and 32 percent above league average, per OPS+, defensive metrics feel that Bruce has mitigated the majority of the value provided by his bat. Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved both peg Bruce as 12 runs below the league average right fielder, dinging him for both his range and his arm. Bruce graded out as a serviceable, if not above-average fielder last season, though, and he rated among the game’s top defenders in right field back in 2013 as well (prior to his knee surgery). Scouts, of course, will have their own take on Bruce’s glovework, and it’s certainly possible that there are evaluators out there that find such metrics to overstate Bruce’s statistical deficiencies this season. And, even if on is to believe that Bruce’s defensive game has dramatically deteriorated, his resurgent bat makes plenty of sense for an American League club that can give him significant time in the DH slot.
Bruce is earning $12.5MM this season — of which about $4.71MM remains — and has what now looks to be a reasonably priced $13MM club option on his contract as well. Bruce’s six-year, $51MM extension provides him with the ability to block trades to eight clubs, but he’s reportedly willing to waive his no-trade protection in order to play for a contending club. He’s been connected to the Dodgers, Orioles, Giants, Nationals, Rangers and Indians in the past week, and Toronto has been mentioned multiple times as a potential fit. More recent reports, though, have indicated that Cleveland isn’t in the mix for Bruce at this time. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, acquired Melvin Upton Jr. earlier today.