When last we spoke, the Cincinnati Reds were bottom dwellers in the NL Central, having completed one of the worst first halves to a season in club history. There had been some good, plenty of bad, and way too much ugly with this young team. The 2 All Stars, Adam Duvall and Jay Bruce, seemed the lone bright spots on a team in the midst of a rebuild.
With the intermission for the All Star Game behind us, we are now in Act 2 of the 2016 season.
Apparently, nobody told the Reds that Act 2 is supposed to start where Act 1 left off.
The Reds are 8-4 since the All Star Break, which normally could be attributed to playing the lowly Brewers, Braves, and Diamondbacks. However, they have just completed an improbably series victory over the San Francisco Giants, who lead the NL West. Included in that series was a 2-1 win over Madison Bumgarner, one of the premier pitchers in the National League. To top it off, while I had been critical of Joey Votto's unVotto like season, he has bumped his average up to .281 in a very short time, which now leads the team among every day players. Jay Bruce is up to 25 home runs, for which he shares the team lead with Adam Duvall, and 79 RBIs, which not only leads all Reds players, but also all National League players.
Not to mention, the pitching has been halfway decent since the break, all things considered. Tony Cingrani is up to 12 saves, Anthony DeSclafani has maintained an ERA near 3, and overall, while for the season Reds pitching has surrendered 5.74 runs per game, they have allowed 4.17 runs per game since the All Star Break (for those of you that live and die by old school stats, that's a 5.46 ERA before the All Star Break and a 3.88 ERA since). That is a significant improvement, even if it is just 12 games. On top of that, it was announced today that Homer Bailey has been activated off of the 60-Day Disabled List. While this will not immediately make this team a threat to win so often they actually make a Wild Card run, that will bring a veteran arm into this young pitching staff, and provide added support to the bullpen by his presence (someone has to get bumped from the rotation to make room for a $100 million man, right?)
With all of this good happening to the young Reds, there has to be a catch. In fact, the catch is perhaps the brightest star on the team right now: NL All Star and previously mentioned RBI Leader, Jay Bruce.
The trade deadline is Sunday. The Reds are obviously not buyers, so one might assume they are sellers. That would be a fair assumption for a team still making progress to rebuild towards another playoff run. With so much young pitching both in the majors and minors, obviously they don't look to be dealing any arms this July. However, they do have a specific bat that can be dealt if the price is right, and as of now, that price has never been higher.
Bruce is in the final guaranteed year of his contract, though there is a club option for 2017 worth $13 million. Assuming he is not traded, the Reds will almost assuredly pick up that option, considering they do not have a suitable replacement as of yet for Bruce. Assuming he is traded, it's hard to see another team making a different decision, considering the tear that Bruce is currently on.
While we have always known that Jay is one of the most powerful hitters on the Reds, he has struggled to stay consistent. He made the All Star Team this year, which, while is a strong indicator that he has had a good season thus far, was just the launching point for the Texan. Since the break, he has a batting average just a few points short of .300, 7 home runs, and 16 RBIs. For comparison, if he were to continue that pace for 150 games (assuming he took some off days), would amount to 87 home runs and 200 RBIs, obviously a pace he won't keep up. However, it does beg the question, will there be ever a better opportunity to trade an outfielder for a King's ransom?
The Reds have not been shy about trading established stars away over the last calendar year, with top guys such as Cueto, Leake, Frazier, and Chapman already having been shipped away for younger, unproven prospects. Bruce certainly fits the mold: established starter, former all star, end of a contract, not getting any younger, and (not including Chapman and his situation) certainly white hot as far as trade value. I heard on 1410 ESPN Radio a valid point a couple days ago. There is always a market for pitchers at the deadline, but position players is a bit more difficult to sell. However, Bruce, I believe, breaks this mold, considering the streak that he is on and the fact that he not only can do damage at the plate, but is a major contributor on defense.
Bruce will bring a King's ransom at this point, considering the surge that he has showed over the last 2 weeks, but the buyer has to be right. Seattle has been mentioned by several reporters as their corner outfielders have been so-so at best. Other potential suitors include the Dodgers, Indians, and Giants, although a trade to Cleveland would require Bruce to waive his partial no trade clause. At this point, I don't know who will end up landing him, if anyone.
This is a tough one. I was there when Jay Bruce hit the home run against the Astros in 2010 to win the NL Central, and that was the biggest sports moment that I had ever seen in person (although the Cincinnati Cyclones Kelly Cup Championship just 3 months prior would give that home run a good run). At the same time, I've seen Jay Bruce go to the plate, and I would know, no matter the circumstance, he was going to strike out for the 20th time in 10 games. I would love for Jay Bruce to sign an extension and join Joey Votto as the veteran presence on a young team building towards a World Series run in 2018, but I know better. Baseball is a game, but Major League Baseball is a business. Frankly, business sucks.