We’re only days away from the 2016 MLB non-waiver trade deadline. That means, most likely, that we’re only days away from long time Reds right* (thanks, ChiDa) fielder Jay Bruce playing his last game in a Reds uniform.
Bruce is one of the biggest names likely to move this period, not only for the Reds, but of the entire deadline. He’s been nearly traded at least twice in the last year; both of the deals aborted for unknown reasons. Jay has resigned to the fact that he’ll be changing zip codes soon. In fact, because of his contract situation and the Reds status as bottom-feeding rebuilders, he’s surprised that the deal hasn’t already been made.
The only logical reason that Jay Bruce is still a current Red instead of a former Red is that Walt Jocketty and Dick Williams haven’t received an offer that’s satisfied their needs. Despite being linked to several different teams, the bidding war the Reds fancy hasn’t materialized.
However, deadlines spur action. It’s not like we’ve seen a lot of movement from anyone else thus far (except for the Red Sox. Dombrowski has been busy as always).
It’s certainly possible the Reds never hear the offer they want before August 1st. If that’s the case, it’s certainly possible they could keep Bruce, pick up his 2017 option, and try again this winter/next deadline. It’s certainly possible, though, that that decision would be an unwise one.
But what does a Jay Bruce trade look like? What are some of the possible pieces that the Reds could get back, based upon the teams he’s been linked with?
We’ll start with the Indians, despite the fact that Ken Rosenthal reported yesterday that sources are saying that the Indians are no longer “on” Jay Bruce, despite being involved with rumors concerning the Reds slugger.
That makes a little sense, as they’ve been waiting for Michael Brantley to get healthy, and they’ve received solid contributions from Lonnie Chisenhall and Rajai Davis and a surprising breakout from rookie Tyler Naquin in the interim.
On the other hand, Brantley has had suffered another setback in his recovery from a shoulder injury that’s claimed most of his season. And, despite the solid contributions they’ve received from Chisenhall and Davis, one is 35 years old and the other is Lonnie Chisenhall. Perhaps Naquin will hit .300/.375/.600 the rest of the season. But, I don’t know that I’d hold my playoff breath counting on it.
Insert Jay Bruce. Currently, the Indians are one of the teams listed on the teams that Bruce can block a trade to via his limited no trade clause, but Jay’s recently stated his desire to win a championship. The Indians, first place in all of the American League, qualify as a contending team. I’d imagine if they want him, Bruce would oblige.
The Indians farm system is very solid, with seven farmhands in Baseball America’s Midseason Top 100. Cleveland’s got the names to get it done, they just have to decide between now and the deadline if they trust their outfielders to keep getting it done.
The Target: Clint Frazier, Bradley Zimmer
This isn’t happening. Fraizer (21) and Zimmer (26) were consensus Top 50 prospects coming into the year, and they’ve only moved up the lists as the year has gone on. Zimmer is only hitting .240 in Akron, but he’s still managing an .800+ OPS. Frazier is the Ginger Destroyer. Cleveland values these guys too much, as well they should.
The Target: Brady Aiken
You remember Brady Aiken (59), the high school pitcher drafted first overall by the Houston Astros in the 2014 MLB Draft. Young and super talented, the Astros fell in love with his upside and made him only the third high school pitcher to be drafted first overall. However, after an MRI revealed something abnormal in Aiken’s elbow, the Astros reduced their offer from $6.5 million to $3.1 million (not-coincidentally the minimum required for Houston to have received a compensatory draft pick in 2015, the number two overall pick).
Aiken refused to take the deal and maintained that he was healthy and deserved closer to the full slot amount, and with that, became only the third number one overall pick not to sign with the team that drafted him.
Early in 2015, while pitching in his first start since not signing with the ‘Stros, Aiken’s elbow indeed exploded, and he required Tommy John surgery to repair it. The Indians made him the 17th overall pick in 2015, betting on his upside and knowing that they’d be getting number one overall type talent at a severely discounted price.
It was a shrewd move, and a genius one if it actually paid off.
Aiken has pitched in his first 14.2 professional innings thus far for the Rookie Ball Indians and they haven’t gone as planned, as he’s given up 18 hits and 11 earned runs over the short span, good for a 6.75 ERA and 1.841 WHIP, though he’s struck out 22 over that time.
Unfortunately, the once-fire-tossing left hander’s velocity is looking much more like Bronson Arroyo’s and less like Randy Johnson, topping out at around 88mph in his most recent start. The Indians are worried.
Remember last year when the Reds nearly traded for a once promising and very talented pitcher that was coming off Tommy John surgery, but backed away due to injury concerns? Me too, and I doubt that Jocketty and Williams will be willing to dip their toes back in that water, even if the Indians were getting cold feet about Aiken’s situation.
Couple that with the fact that even if Aiken is fine, he’s likely several years away from the Major Leagues (and the Reds have, for better or worse, put an emphasis on being near-ready when trading for prospects). And this just doesn’t look like a fit, talent be damned.
The Target: Bobby Bradley
Now, your fake GMs here at Red Reporter didn’t shy away from Aiken, and were even able to pick up Bradley (64) and Danny Salazar for Todd Frazier last winter in the SB Nation GM simulation. In hindsight, we got one of the league’s best young pitchers and two top 75 prospects (even if one might be broken) for two years of Todd Frazier and throwing in Tanner Rainey.
Damn, that was a good trade.
Bradley continues to mash for A+ Lynchburg, and ranks eighth in the Carolina League in OPS (.878), among the likes of Andrew Benintendi, Yoan Moncada, and Ian Happ. Here’re MLB.com’s notes on the young slugger:
Bradley made an immediate impact after signing with Cleveland as a third-round pick in 2013, winning the Rookie-level Arizona League's Triple Crown with a .361 average, eight home runs and 50 RBIs in just 39 games. He was even more impressive last year in his full-season debut, when he paced the Midwest League with 27 home runs and 92 RBIs despite missing 20 games with an oblique injury early in the season.
Bradley has all the ingredients needed to be an impact hitter, with plus bat speed, huge power and feel for using the entire field at a young age. However, his Midwest League-leading 148 strikeouts (and 32 percent strikeout rate) last season are reflective of his raw approach, and there are some scouts who worry about his capacity to make consistent contact at higher levels.
Bradley faces an uphill battle due to his profile as first-base-only prospect, but his combination of power and hitting ability is plenty good enough to overcome those odds.
And there, of course, is the rub. The Reds don’t really have any use for a first base only prospect, and don’t have any room in the lineup for one until approximately 2042. Bradley’s a solid hitter, but I can’t imagine the Reds would be over the moon getting a guy who’s both far away and, even if he weren’t, not an upgrade. RIP, Yonder Alonso.
The Target: Justus Sheffield
The Indians selected Sheffield (ranked a #nice number 69 for BA) with their second first round pick in 2014. The left hander signed the next day and immediately got to work.
“A bit undersized” at 5-foot-10-inches tall, the 20-year-old already has solid command of three pitches (fastball, curve, slider), and is working on adding a passable change up to the mix. From MLB.com:
Sheffield shows the makings of an above-average three-pitch mix. He's hit 96 mph with his fastball but usually sits in the 92-93 mph range with late, arm-side life and some sink. His curveball flashes plus and projects as a swing-and-miss offering at the highest level, and he made strides developing his changeup in 2015. A good athlete with a clean and repeatable delivery, Sheffield floods the zone with all his pitches but needs to improve the quality of his strikes.
You know who else was a bit undersized? Johnny Cueto. Seems to be working out for him.
He’s certainly got pedigree; Justus is the nephew of former All-Star Gary Sheffield. His older brother, Jordan, was drafted 36th overall by the Dodgers in this June’s draft out of Vanderbilt.
Sheffield has a real no. 3 starter projection, if not better as he grows and matures and refines his approach. Of course, you could basically remove the name and insert all of the Reds current prospects and the sentence would still be true. The Reds system is loaded with guys like this, but I don’t think they’d really hesitate to add another.
You can never have to many pitching prospects. Which leads me to:
The Target: Mike Clevinger
Speaking of guys the Reds system already has a lot of.
Clevinger (71) made his Major League debut against the Reds just earlier this year, though he was shuffled back to AAA after only three starts. The Reds dented the scoreboard 4 times in 5.1 innings against Clevinger, but the Indians got the final say, winning 8-7.
Clevinger is a big kid (6’4”) with a big fastball (touching 97 with movement), and he found his command in a big way last year (145 strikeouts to 40 walks). He currently owns as 2.82 ERA for the Clippers in AAA, and he’d probably be starting at the big league level for most organizations.
However, most rotations don’t contain three legit Cy Young candidates.
So for now, Clevinger has to toil in the minors and wait his turn. Should the Reds target (and the Indians agree) to let him go, it would give the Reds just one more solid upside, near-ready/ready rotation piece to bolster an already strong (albeit crowded) group of names.
Of course, if a trade materializes here, there will likely be other names involved. But, I have to believe Williams and Jocketty will insist at least one of the names above be involved.
Whether Cleveland will go that far, time will only tell.