The six-year, $51 million deal that Cincinnati Reds slugging right fielder Jay Bruce signed in 2011 has been a steal for the Reds.
After this year, Bruce has two more years remaining on the deal at $12 million for 2015 and $12.5 million for 2016. The Reds also have a $13 million team option or $1 million buyout for 2017, which puts the Reds in a great position to keep Bruce as one of the franchise’s core players. Other core players are Joey Votto, Brandon Philips and Homer Bailey, who are also all under contract through at least the 2017 season.
But the remaining contract for Bruce is only a value for the Reds if Bruce can have a 162-game average of 31 homers and 94 RBIs instead of the 2014 version of Bruce, who looks as hopelessly lost at the plate as his .221 batting average and the lowest OPS (.696) of his seven-year career would indicate.
The Reds don’t need to trade Bruce, but would be remiss at this point not to at least listen to offers before the non-waiver trade deadline. Bruce’s contract allows him to block trades to eight teams, but the Reds still may find a suitor — be it a contender or not — who is willing to let the Reds cherry pick their farm system in return for Bruce.
Bruce has been a vital part of the Reds’ resurgence since 2010 and may even be more of the face of the franchise than either Votto or Phillips.
But if the Reds continue to lose in bunches and 2014 indeed does deteriorate into a lost season for the Reds, Bruce may be the best trade chip that the Reds have to infuse their minor leagues with a couple of top starting pitching prospects. The Reds could use that help to rebuild their rotation after the 2015 season when four fifths of their current rotation will be eligible for free agency.