O’s Could Pull Off Bruce Trade
In the wake of Dexter Fowler rejecting a three-year offer, the Baltimore Orioles still have a major void in right field. With Fowler having returned to the Chicago Cubs, the Orioles—unless they want to begin the year with sub-par defender Mark Trumbo in right—must now seek another alternative, and could take advantage of another transaction that recently fell apart.
Earlier this week, it looked as though the Cincinnati Reds were finally going to move right fielder Jay Bruce in a three-team deal with the Toronto Blue Jays and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The trade, which would have sent Bruce to Toronto, fell apart due to the medical report of one of the players involved in the deal.
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While those three teams could reengage in talks, there is an opening for the Orioles. In the aftermath of the trade’s collapse, Jeff Passan of Yahoo reported that all the Reds seek is “a not-so-big return” for Bruce, meaning that “other teams could pounce knowing price is low.”
As has been repeatedly chronicled this offseason, the Orioles farm system ranks among the worst in the game, giving them very few players to offer in a major deal. That said, the Orioles could be a match for Bruce.
Passan’s report falls in line with something that is fairly well established regarding the Reds and their current rebuilding project. Rather than seeking players with high ceilings, the club has generally desired prospects based on their proximity to the majors. This is evidenced, in part, by the club’s return for Todd Fraizer, a July deal that sent Johnny Cueto to the Kansas City Royals, and a proposed deal that would have sent Brandon Phillips to Washington. In that scenario, the Nationals would have obtained the second baseman—who is showing signs of decline, but remains a solid option in the short-run—without giving up a top prospect. Keep in mind, also, that the Reds were about to part with Bruce in a deal with the Angels and Blue Jays, two teams with severely limited farm systems.
The Orioles have some players the Reds could target. When it comes to major league proximity, the two most intriguing options are first baseman Trey Mancini and Christian Walker. Of course, the Reds might overlook both players, given that first baseman Joey Votto is expected to stay with the club through its rebuild. In that instance, the Reds could turn to the glut of back-of-the rotation/bullpen pitchers that have typically rounded out the latter half of Orioles’ top-10 prospect lists—options such as Mike Wright, Tanner Scott, and Tyler Wilson. (For more context, MLB.com’s top-30 list is fairly reflective of how those pitchers are regarded.)
After evaluating the cost in terms of prospects, the Orioles will have a few other things to consider with Bruce, who was among the more consistent power hitters in the National League until struggling over the last two seasons. It has been suggested that he is still recovering from a knee injury that cost him a good portion of 2014, but other quantifiable signs are also troubling, including a generally-flawed plate approach that has never improved and a diminishing exit velocity.
If the Orioles pass on Bruce, their options are limited. One—and one that our own Chris Stoner has thoroughly championed—is to sign Pedro Alvarez, who would become the DH while Trumbo shifts to first base and Chris Davis plays in right. Of those three, Davis passes the eye test as the best in right field, but his experience at that position amounts to a mere 60 games—30 in 2012, and another 30 last season. Offensively, Alvarez presents similar flaws to Bruce—low contact rates, high strikeout totals—but has outperformed him over the last two seasons in the triple-slash categories and OPS+.
Another option for the Orioles if they pass on Alvarez and Bruce is to sign one of the remaining reserve outfield free agents, a group that includes the likes of Austin Jackson, David Murphy, and Alex Rios. Jackson would be my choice among that trio because he’d probably play a very capable right, offsetting some of his offensive flaws. The left-handed hitting Murphy, however, could be valuable if platooned with a right-hander such as Nolan Reimold or Joey Rickard.
Circling back to Bruce, there is one potential advantage that has not been discussed. If this season saw him rebound to something closer to his 2010-2013 production, it would come at a very reasonable $12 million and would be followed with a $13 million club option for 2017. That would have to come into play for the Orioles, as it is likely that they would pick up most—if not all of—Bruce’s salary.
Bruce, like every other player profiled in this piece, is an imperfect solution. However, if a deal were to be considered, it would be one of the few in which the Orioles could meet another team’s desires.
A graduate of the University of Massachusetts, and Loyola University; Spedden has previously spent time in the Washington Nationals organization as a videographer for the Hagerstown Suns. As a blogger, Spedden is an Editor / Writer for the Suns fan club. Additionally, he contributes to The Nats Blog as a prospect writer, and Ballpark Digest. For BSL, Spedden covers the Orioles Minor Leagues.