It appears the rumors that broke early Monday regarding the Cincinnati Reds, outfielder Jay Bruce, the Los Angeles Angels, and a complicated trade with the Toronto Blue Jays were more than just smoke signals, and as of late Monday night it seemed Bruce would be traded north of the border. FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal heard that Bruce would head to Toronto, OF Michael Saunders would go from Toronto to the Angels, and multiple prospects would return to the massive rebuild in Cincinnati.
But, much like the rest of the Reds' offseason, things didn't exactly go as planned from that point forward. As both Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports and Rosenthal himself later confirmed, those medicals being reviewed apparently yielded enough news on one of the prospects headed back to the Reds for the entire deal to stall.
Source: Talks are on hold in the potential Jay Bruce deal. Players were agreed upon, but issue came up with a non-Bruce player's medicals.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) February 23, 2016
Source: Medical concerns in Bruce deal involved #BlueJays minor leaguer, not Saunders. Player presumably was going to CIN. Trade off for now— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) February 23, 2016
Considering ESPN's Keith Law said earlier in February that the current Angels system is "by far the worst [he's] ever seen" in his years at the prospect ranking helm, it's at least encouraging to note that someone from the Toronto system was also on their way to the Reds. Even still, the decision to trade Bruce at such a nadir in his value is easy to question, to say the least. Bruce laid claim to an .843 OPS through August 4th of 2015 - just days after the Reds nearly struck a deal to trade him to the New York Mets for prized young pitcher Zack Wheeler - and that point was well on his way to putting to bed the sentiment that his 2014 struggles were due to anything other than a torn meniscus. However, his value cratered from that point on, a putrid .477 OPS in 119 August PA sinking his overall rate stats across the board.
So far, nary a named prospect has leaked in these discussions, but for the Reds to pull the trigger on trading Bruce at this point, it's worth wondering if there was a specific guy offered to them in return that piqued their interest enough to consider getting a deal done now. Maybe Max Pentecost - the oft-injured but super talented minor league catcher who was Toronto's 1st round pick in 2014 - was dangled, but the rotator cuff injury he's fought since being drafted raised too many question marks to sign off on. (And as a side note, it's also of note that apparently the formerly injured knees of both Bruce and Saunders are now in solid enough shape to not be the problem, which is surely great news to both teams they're still contracted to.)
Even the injured Pentecost may be more than the Reds were asking for, however, as later former Baltimore Orioles GM (and current MLB Network analyst) Jim Duquette chimed in with this unsettling quote that may suggest there's more to this Reds' rebuild than actually targeting good young players.
Considering the Reds have already shed some $30 million from last season's payroll, moving Bruce solely to be free of the $13.5 million he's guaranteed on his contract seems petty, but it may be a clear indication that the team-record payrolls of the previous three years were wholly unsustainable.
Bruce would have been reunited with former Reds hitting coach Brook Jacoby in Toronto, with whom he found great success during his first six years in the big leagues. Jacoby, you'll remember, left the Reds at the same time as his friend and Reds' manager Dusty Baker - reportedly when Baker refused to let the Reds part ways with Jacoby unless they fired him, too. It's also interesting to hear that Toronto had been on Bruce's limited no-trade list up until earlier this offseason, at which point he removed them from the list for reasons not yet made public.
With today the official start of Spring Training for all of the 62 invitees the Reds have in Goodyear, Bruce will be in the awkward spot of getting ramped up and ready with the team that all but traded him away. Fortunately, though, he'll have company in said misery, as he'll be joined by Brandon Phillips in camp despite the Reds having twice agreed to trades to ship him off, too. Just the latest chapter in a rebuild that has been very pronounced with little nuance - and one that clearly is far from over.