Phillies Should at Least Explore Jay Bruce Trade

Mar 9, 2016; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Cincinnati Reds right fielder Jay Bruce (32) hits a pitch during the fourth inning against the Texas Rangers at Goodyear Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 9, 2016; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Cincinnati Reds right fielder Jay Bruce (32) hits a pitch during the fourth inning against the Texas Rangers at Goodyear Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

The Philadelphia Phillies may be looking to bring in a veteran outfielder to help bolster their current options.

This past week, Phillies writers and fans were puzzled by reports that the team might be in the market for a veteran outfielder. This report came from Jayson Stark, a national writer for ESPN who still has major connections to Philadelphia, so you would have to believe that there was at least a nugget of truth to the rumor.

On his podcast, one that every serious Phillies fan should regularly listen to, John Stolnis of “The Felske File” spoke with Phillies beat writer Matt Gelb, who confirmed that the team has had rival scouts looking at their minor league camp, as well as their own scouts looking at what’s out there to possibly acquire

Gelb mentioned that it’s probable that the Phillies would acquire an outfielder via the waiver wire, but not before discussing possible trade candidates.

Such trolling for outfielders would seem to run counter to the Phillies’ goals in the coming season, mainly evaluating which young players have a future with the organization. Adding a veteran could prevent younger outfielders from receiving the at-bats needed to further their development.

Earlier this week, our own Matt Veasey wrote about the need, or lack thereof, to add such a veteran to the outfield mix. Veasey cited this exact reasoning as to why adding a veteran isn’t really necessary for the Phillies at this point in the rebuilding process. While I halfway agree with his thought process, I also agree with a Phillies need that Stolnis and Gelb had discussed: power.

It’s no secret that with Peter Bourjos, Odubel Herrera, and Tyler Goeddel slated to begin the season as the starters, the 2016 Phillies team projects to have possibly the worst outfield, power-wise, in Major League Baseball.

Between the three, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that they combine to hit a total of 20 home runs, poor by any measure. With this impending power outage, it’s quite possible that there would be a corresponding negative by affecting Maikel Franco.

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At this point, the young Phillies emerging star 3rd baseman, who is leading the Grapefruit League in homers, is the only source of consistent power on the team. That is, unless you count the possibility of Ryan Howard and Darin Ruf performing in a mostly strict platoon. If there is little to protect Franco in the lineup, why pitch to him?

That might make the pursuit of an outfielder take on more urgency, and would make a little more sense, if in fact they are chasing someone who can drive the ball out of the park consistently. This all leads me to one of the names who Gelb mentioned in the podcast: Jay Bruce.

Bruce is a name that has been floated as a trade candidate over the entire off-season. The Cincinnati Reds are in the process of rebuilding also, and would do well to see what type of prospect package that Bruce, an impending free agent, might bring to speed along their own process.

While Bruce, who turns 29 years old as the season opens, has struggled recently, with a combined .222/.288/.406 slash line over the 2014-15 seasons, he still has shown the ability to hit home runs, slugging 44 in those same two seasons.

The lefty strikes out a large percentage of the time, whiffing at a rate of 22.6% in 2015, so there would be that as a negative. His outfield defense has been slightly above average in the past, so he doesn’t lose much value in that aspect of the game. Overall, even though his numbers might be unsightly, as a packag Bruce has only posted one season of negative WAR in his career.

So, why should the Phillies make a move to acquire Bruce? There are three reasons I could come up with.

One was mentioned by Gelb and Stolnis: the trade deadline. Bruce has the potential to be one of the few impact bats available at the 2016 trade deadline, mostly due to his looming free agency. One would have to figure that Cincy is hopeful to entice some contending team to part with more than they wanted to in order to add Bruce’s lefty power bat as a final playoff push piece.

The Phillies could get ahead of the game by trading some quality now, possibly to acquire even better prospects at the 2016 deadline. If they were to flip Bruce, they could get back arguably what they traded for him in the first place, or even better.

From Cincinnati’s point of view, the Reds might be more willing to deal Bruce now, since they are guaranteed the prospects rather than simply hoping Bruce maintains good health and decent production.

Secondly, Bruce would bring protection for Franco that no one else in the lineup currently has the consistent ability to provide. He strikes out a ton, for sure. But he’s also a constant threat to hit the ball out of the yard. That type of protection could help Franco flourish into a top-flight power hitter in the National League. Would the Phillies be adverse to such a development? Certainly not.

Third in my reasoning is that financially, Bruce would be a better fit for Philadelphia than he is for Cincinnati. Absorbing Bruce’s $14 million price tag is something the Reds won’t want to do. Letting a team like the deep-pocketed Phillies take on the end of that contract helps the Reds free up money for something else, such as contract extensions, buyouts, and future trade balances.

The Phillies can afford to pay Bruce all of that money, which would likely mean that, prospect-wise, they wouldn’t have to pay as much. In today’s trade world, having a team take on money is sometimes more valuable than getting top-notch prospects in return.

Trading for Bruce might, at first blush, seem like a ludicrous idea. The stats on the back of his baseball card reveal to the average fan that the two-time NL All-Star and Silver Slugger winner isn’t worth plugging into a rebuilding lineup at this stage of his career.

Still, with the profiles of the current outfielders on the Phillies’ roster, Bruce would be an obvious upgrade. The young Goeddel, now in line to start regularly, wouldn’t have to worry about being over-exposed too much as a starter at this point in his own developing career. He could shine in the fourth outfielder role which he was originally scheduled to fill prior to the team losing Aaron Altherr for the season .

An acquisition of Bruce would also push everyone currently in camp down a notch, helping with depth. This would reduce the need to rush any of the top prospects from the minors if a further injury were to occur.

If the team was unable to deal Bruce, and he were still with the team on August 2nd, so be it. He’ll be a free agent and move on anyway, clearing space for Nick Williams and Roman Quinn in 2017. It’s an idea that I’m in favor of at least exploring to see what the price would be for the Phillies to acquire Bruce’s veteran power bat.

Next: Mid-Spring Opening Day Roster Prediction