Back in December, the Baltimore Orioles were reportedly in talks with the Cincinnati Reds to acquire outfielder Jay Bruce. Clearly, those talks went nowhere, as Bruce still plays for the Reds. Bruce was seen as an attractive option for the Orioles following the losses of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis over the winter. Bruce is signed through the end of the 2016 season, with a team option for 2017. As the Reds continue to labor along through the 2015 season at 35-40 and continue to fall further and further behind the big guns in the National League Central, there has been growing sentiment around baseball that the Reds will need to begin tearing down parts of their roster in an effort to rebuild. That means Brandon Phillips, Aroldis Chapman, and Bruce are likely ticketed out of Cincinnati.
With the fact that the Reds will be sellers as the trade deadline approaches, there has been another uptick in chatter surrounding the Orioles and Bruce. Bruce, a two-time All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger, has batted just .225 over his past 210 games with 215 strikeouts and only 30 home runs. He had averaged 32 home runs per season from 2011 to 2013. Last May, he suffered a torn meniscus which kept him out most of the month. The injury interrupted his season, so his struggles may partially be attributable to that fact. Bruce has had a slight uptick in production closer to career averages this season. He is no longer an All-Star caliber player, but Bruce looks like a fair-to-good option for a team looking to add a power bat at the trade deadline.
So, should the Baltimore Orioles be the team that pulls the trigger on a deal for the 28-year-old rightfielder?
The corner outfield positions have been a problem for the Orioles this season. Replacing Cruz and Markakis was not going to be easy, and the Orioles struggled to find the right recipe in the first two months of the season, shuttling Travis Snider, Delmon Young, Alejandro De Aza and Steve Pearce in-and-out of the lineup. De Aza was shipped out to Boston after struggling mightily. Snider now appears firmly entrenched in the everyday lineup, and has batted .281/.343/.469 in June when finally given regular playing time, with two home runs and four doubles. The Orioles also appear to have struck gold with the addition of Chris Parmelee, who has hit four home runs in his first 13 games with the team. Nolan Reimold has also thrown his name in the mix, with a .514 slugging percentage in his first 15 games since being called up from Triple-A. Steve Pearce has also gotten hot, after hovering near the Mendoza Line for most of April and May. Pearce has a .293/.341/.415 line in June, very similar to his season statistics in 2014.
All of this depth gives the Orioles options to continue playing the hot hand in left and right field. If they trade for Bruce, Buck Showalter will be forced to play him in right field every day, whether or not he struggles. Of all the things Showalter has done the past four-plus years in Baltimore, knowing the right buttons to press when filling out a lineup card is the area in which he has excelled most. Adding Bruce takes away Showalter’s ability to be flexible, and could hurt the Orioles.
Bruce is a high-strikeout, low-average player. Yes, he will hit his fair share of home runs, but that is not something the Orioles struggle to do. In an Orioles’ lineup that is loaded at the top, Bruce would hit in the lower third — possibly as low as seventh or eighth depending on how Jonathan Schoop hits when he returns. In that position, the Orioles do not need a 30-home run hitter. They need someone who can get on base ahead of Manny Machado and the top of the order. Bruce just will not accomplish that frequently enough, thanks to the high strikeout total and defensive shifts that will rob him of base hits the same way Chris Davis is robbed.
Jay Bruce looks good on paper for the Baltimore Orioles, and when looking at his overall career resume, he seems like a valuable asset. But when adding an asset, a team must consider the player’s overall fit in their lineup. Bruce would be a great fit for a team like the New York Mets, who would presumably bat him in the middle of the lineup. For the Orioles, however, who would bat him much lower, a player who does not reach base at a better than league average clip just does not make sense. The Orioles have one of the shrewdest front offices in the league, and will not make a trade based on name value alone. I would be surprised to see Bruce seriously connected to the Orioles in trade talks, and even more surprised if he ends up landing there at the deadline. He is just not the type of player that will put the Orioles over the top in their pursuit of a playoff berth.