It would be impossible for the calendar to turn to trade season without Jay Bruce's name popping up immediately. With the Cincinnati Reds in obvious rebuild mode and Bruce rapidly approaching the end of his contract, it's all but certain that we'll see the idea of trading the veteran RF bounced around both in the Cincinnati media and anywhere a sweet swinging lefty bat would improve a lineup.
The first such instance leaked on Sunday, when Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe mentioned that the Kansas City Royals were keeping tabs on Bruce. On the surface, it's an idea that makes a bit of sense, albeit one that might have made more at last year's July 31st deadline when Alex Rios was struggling mightily for the Royals in RF and Jay Bruce had yet to suffer through the miserable slump that ended his 2015 season. Kansas City stayed in-house to replace Rios after winning the World Series - turning over RF to a combination of Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando - but so far have only been able to claim a pedestrian .686 OPS from RF this year.
So yeah, you'd think that Bruce's .270/.327/.518 start to the season would be an instant upgrade. To their offense, maybe, but that's where things get a bit murky. Bruce's awful defensive ratings have torpedoed his overall value to the point where FanGraphs has valued the Royals' RF production on the whole (0.8 fWAR) significantly better than the Reds' (-0.3).
For this rumor to have any sort of legs, a couple of thoughts have to be going through the mind of Royals GM Dayton Moore. First, that Bruce's offensive renaissance is real, that the .834 OPS he had up until August of last year and his solid 2016 show he's far enough removed from the 2014 knee injury and surgery that coincided with his plummeting offensive production. That'd be banking that Bruce, still just 29 years old, was still capable of the consistent .800 OPS seasons he'd had in the past, and that his improved 2016 splits (.843 OPS vs. RHP, .847 OPS vs. LHP; .854 OPS in GABP, .824 OPS on the road) are indicative of an improved, maturing approach at the plate. Second, and perhaps more important, would be that the defensive metrics that grade Jay as a brutal RF are significantly overblown. UZR/150 isn't the best defensive stat to use on just a 40ish game sample, but the -34.0 mark for Bruce so far this season is downright awful. Similarly, Baseball Reference already has him having accrued -1.0 dWAR on the young season, also suggesting his play in the field has been more than enough to negate his rekindled offensive prowess.
For the Royals to be willing to take on the $7-8 million left on Bruce's 2015 contract (and the $1 million buyout should they not choose to pick up his $13 million option), some combination of those thoughts must be agreed upon. Perhaps they buy-in to the idea that the small OF in GABP and being shadowed by a brilliant defender in Billy Hamilton has negatively impacted the overall defensive numbers more that they probably should. If they do agree those apparent deficiencies have been overblown, the potential to add a potent lefty bat to a KC lineup whose overall 91 wRC+ against RHP ranks just 22nd in all of baseball may be enticing, especially given the likely beaten-down asking price. The Royals RF combo, for what its worth, has just a 77 wRC+ against RHP in 2016 - the fifth worst in MLB - while Bruce himself boasts a 118.
The current front offices of the Reds and Royals have certainly been willing to do business in the past, with the blockbuster 2015 deal that sent Johnny Cueto to the eventual World Series winners in exchange for Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb, and Cody Reed being the most recent example. They also shook hands on the 2012 deadline deal that sent Jonathan Broxton to a Reds team poised for a lengthy playoff run, so there's clearly a willingness to work together in both camps.
Kansas City has plenty to consider, and the ball is obviously in their court on this. Their farm system is already depleted after the Cueto deal (and their acquisition of Ben Zobrist last year, too), but their window to hang a second banner while their current core is still under contract isn't going to be open for much longer. At 22-21 and stuck in 3rd in the AL Central, they'll soon have to make some decisions about how to tweak their roster back into the beast it has been the last two seasons, and if Jay Bruce can keep swinging a hot bat, he just might be part of it.