As you may have heard, Jay Bruce is going to be getting miniscus fixin' surgery and will be out for "3-4 weeks." Without knowing how much to trust that figure, let's just hope/assume that it means that he'll be gone a month and that he may be suboptimal after that. Dang.
It may be cold comfort to think that the knee injury may be behind Bruce's so-far suboptimal defense, but it may also signal that he'll be gone longer, since he'll need his mobility in order to be his awesome self. I won't lie, this is a huge bummer, and it might be not just for this year but for the next couple of years of his contract too if the knee injury saps his power and his mobility, since those are his two strengths. It sucks for the Reds, it sucks for the Reds fans, and most of all it sucks for Jay Bruce. He's a great guy who is looking forward to being a part of the Reds plans for a while, but there's a low-percentile projection out there that he becomes a .260/.320/.430 first-baseman.
I hope to goodness that it doesn't come to that, though. The best-case scenario is that Bruce will be out a month and will come out punching in June. So what do the Reds do about that?
The first thing that came into many of your minds, if I am reading them correctly, is "so what, they managed this in 2012 with Votto out!" The Reds played 47 games with Joey on the DL in 2012: 3 against teams that finished >.500 (1-2 against the Cards), 12 against teams that went .500 (ARI and PHI), and 32 against some really bad teams. So no wonder they did well, but still, no shock they did well.
The Reds have a couple games at Fenway this week, but then COL, SDP, @PHI before finishing the month @WSN, STL, @LAD, @ARI. So maybe they can pick up some momentum with that weak middle of May, but this probably will not be the cakewalk that August 2012 was, schedule-wise. No real responsible way to expect a respite there.
So what do the Reds do about that?
Bring Back Bernie, Hope for the Best
Maybe Skip will be a high-OBP sparkplug, Bernadina will get his second extra-base hit, and Chris Heisey will run into enough fastballs to keep the outfield hustling. Thus, paired with a league-average Billy Hamilton doing his thing at the top of the order, will keep things humming. Bryan Price will juggle all five of his part-time outfielders masterfully and Maddon-fully, getting great matchups and working them well.
Call up Lutz, get dat Power Bat
The Reds' lefties right now are: Skip Schumaker
Sure, Brayan Pena, Hamilton, Tucker Barnhart, and the still-on-this-team Ramon Santiago are switch hitters (which seems like a lot!) but the only real bench threat there is Pena, and he's the go-to starter until Mesoraco gets back, which should be aaaany second now.
Nobody can replicate Bruce's power, but the Reds' bench would be taken a bit more seriously if there was someone who could scare righty relievers. Donald Lutz is 25 and going .387/.439/.733 yes .733 in AA, with 7 2b, 2 3b, and 5 HR.
Sure, it'd be great to see him taking a few more walks, but his defense is well-respected and he's a lot more threatening on the bench than Bernadina. Since the Reds already have 4 competent OFs without Roger, they may as well call up Gross Donald and see what he can do.
Trade for a Power Bat
Jason Kubel is on a one-year, $2M deal for the Twins. He's 32 and could never play defense, but he's hit the ball everywhere except for an injury-ruined 2013, going.232/.332/.454 in his career and.292/.370/.406 this year.
Kubel knows his way around the batting box and could be had for some Ismael Guillon/Carlos Conteras type before the bidding goes up at the deadline. Even when Bruce comes back, he can be a decent PH guy for the rest of the year or flipped again at the July deadline. If Lutz is injured or still has a couple things to learn, Kubel is a decent alternative.
Trade for a guy who can plug into LF next year
Ludwick is most likely gone after this year, so the Reds can get a bigger-ticket OF who they can switch to LF after Ludwick is gone and can be of some use this year in case Heisey and/or Skip never put anything together.
A guy like Michael Saunders of the Mariners is still under team control and a bit more of a doubles-and-speed guy than a power bat. His defense ain't great, but he has an awesome nickname ("The Condor") and seems to be putting things together with a .243/.315/.415 line since 2012; good for a 107 OPS+ in Seattle's cavernous Seattledome (or whatever it's called).
Saunders would be more expensive; probably needing 2-3 prospects (guessing: Lorenzen, Yorman, Walzcak), but he could be a really fun .270/.330/.430 Frazier-type from the left side in GABP and could be part of this team's 2015 window. Plus, if he takes Tucker's "16" I could re-purpose my Reggie Sanders jersey, sort of.
Go vote in the poll below, and talk about your decision. Keep in mind that the players mentioned and packages to get them for trades are all guesswork.