Carter John Bruce was born less than a month ago, and his father, Jay, a first-time pop, was proudly showing off pictures of the little guy nestled in his sleep sack.Those early days and weeks of parenthood can be a whirlwind, settling into the routine of sleepless nights and dirty
Carter John Bruce was born less than a month ago, and his father, Jay, a first-time pop, was proudly showing off pictures of the little guy nestled in his sleep sack.
Those early days and weeks of parenthood can be a whirlwind, settling into the routine of sleepless nights and dirty diapers. And for Jay and his wife, Hannah, this new adventure comes coupled with the uncertainty over where, exactly, Jay will be playing baseball by season's end.
"We try," Bruce said, "not to get too far ahead of ourselves."
These days, Cincinnati's clubhouse doubles as a waiting room for Bruce. He knows the Reds, whose rebuilding process has been even more painful than planned as the result of some brutal bullpen performance in the first quarter of 2016, have an intent to trade him. And Bruce, in turn, has an intent to play for a winning club, which could be a motivation behind what has been, to date, a career year.
In an honest moment, Bruce would probably tell you he's amazed to still be here, wearing the uniform of the team that drafted him as a teenager and helped develop him into an All-Star. There was, after all, a deal nearly worked out with the Mets last summer. And then, there was another notable non-deal just before Spring Training, when Bruce was headed to the Blue Jays as part of a three-team deal with the Angels (who also tried to acquire Bruce outright) that fell through over concerns about the medicals of one of the players involved.
With his trade value compromised by his subpar performance in 2014 and '15 and the free-agent market littered with outfielders, Bruce wasn't the easy sell he would have been a few years back. So this 2016 season has served as an audition -- a good player on a last-place team who is trying to impress the many eyes upon him.
"It's funny," Bruce said. "In the Minor Leagues, all your coaches tell you, 'Hey, you're playing for 29 other teams right now.' It seems to always be the case at some point in your career."
That Bruce, 29, is handling a potentially awkward situation with class and professionalism is unsurprising. The Reds were upfront with Bruce throughout the recent trade discussions because of their respect for him.
"I think he was very appreciative of the line of conversation," said Reds general manager Dick Williams. "And he was open and honest about his desires. We never felt backed against a wall or forced with Jay. Things just had a way of not working out. But he's the kind of guy we knew we could take into the season and he would still do his job."
Quite soon, Bruce is going to be one of the central figures of the developing summer trade market (the non-waiver Trade Deadline is on Aug. 1 this year). His improved performance makes the roughly $22 million he is owed between now and the end of 2017 (assuming his $13 million '17 option, which will be significantly less than the cost of a qualifying offer, is exercised) look like a better bargain than it did just a few months ago.
Bruce entered the week with a .273/.329/.525 slash. His 124 adjusted OPS+ was tied for the best of his career.
He was a late scratch from Saturday's lineup with knee soreness suffered on a crash into the outfield wall. But the issue was considered minor.
Two of Bruce's eight home runs this season went out left of center. Why is this notable? Because of the 44 home runs he hit between 2014 and '15, the same number -- two -- went left of center. Virtually all of Bruce's power was to the pull side.
Here's another encouraging sign: Bruce is being shifted more than ever (80.6 percent of plate appearances in which he puts the ball in play, according to FanGraphs, versus 55 percent last year). And yet it hasn't tanked his batting average.
"I only notice when I don't get shifted," Bruce said. "And honestly, the shift hasn't killed me."
Yet another indicator that Bruce is not only back but possibly better than ever is his line-drive rate. Look at how it has soared:
"I just feel stronger," Bruce said, "I hit a lot of balls on the ground the last two years, and I usually don't do that too, too much. I think in 2014, it had something to do with my knee. And I think in 2015, the bad habits I had carried over. So it's just fixing that. I haven't felt terrible, haven't felt great. I'm just trying to keep my blinders on and go to work."
Williams said there are no active discussions involving Bruce right now. But the trade market generally begins to take shape following the MLB Draft, which begins June 9, so Bruce's name is sure to be bandied about soon.
The Angels still make some sense. Both Chicago clubs look like a potential match, with the Cubs' outfield depth affected by the loss of Kyle Schwarber and the White Sox roster freed of the $13 million that was owed to Adam LaRoche. The Indians aren't getting much power production out of their outfield, especially with Michael Brantley back on the shelf with continued shoulder issues, but finances are a big hurdle there. The Blue Jays' offense hasn't been as ample as expected, but left fielder Michael Saunders -- the guy they were going to give up in the Bruce deal -- is also having a career year.
The Reds are in a much better position with Bruce than they are with their other obvious trade chip, Brandon Phillips. The 34-year-old second baseman is having a solid season, but he gave the Reds the impression over the offseason that he won't waive his 10-and-5 rights unless his contract is extended.
Bruce is making no such demands. He's just flipping through those baby pictures, putting in his work and biding his time in the waiting room.
And if Bruce keeps playing like this, he won't be waiting much longer.
.Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.