Cincinnati Reds: Jay Bruce and Shin-Soo Choo Create Debate for the Future
Choo leads the majors in runs scored, on-base percentage and hit by pitches. He is also second in the majors in on-base plus slugging and fourth in walks.
There's no denying that he has been getting on base and helping the team get on the board. Now the Reds will have to start thinking about how valuable he is to the team.
Over the weekend, a talk show host on 700 WLW, the radio affiliate of the Reds, posed a question to fans during a pregame show: What can the Reds do to afford re-signing Choo?
With Bronson Arroyo's contract set to expire after this season, there will be some money available. However, there still won't be enough cash free to meet Choo's demands.
Host Ken Broo believes the only way to afford Choo would be to get rid of one of the "core four," which is Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce and Johnny Cueto. Out of those players, Bruce was the one most fans picked to try to move in order to keep Choo. (Long conversations can found at around 11:45 of the original clip or around 24:45 of this second clip.)
Here's a question for Reds fans: Who would you rather have in the outfield for the future, Bruce or Choo?
The Case for Jay Bruce
Age should be a serious consideration when deciding what to do. Bruce is only 26 years old, but Choo will be turning 31 later this season. Choo's better years are behind him and won't be around as long as Bruce.
Youth is one advantage Bruce has over Choo, but his talent makes him a building block for the future.
Bruce is the only player in major league history to hit 20 homers in his rookie season and increase his total every year. With 137 career home runs, he currently has the same amount of homers as former National League Most Valuable Player Joey Votto.
Jay has also increased his RBI total every season and has been just a few RBI short of 100 in each of the past two seasons.
His power numbers aren't there yet this season, but he has been going the other way more frequently than in years past.
Bruce is arguably the streakiest hitter in baseball. He can carry a team when he's on a hot streak, or he can kill rallies when he slumps. He hasn't been too streaky in 2013, so he may be learning to be more consistent.
The right fielder has won NL Player of the Month before and has been named NL Player of the Week five times already in his young career, which ties a club record.
Bruce is a two-time All-Star and picked up his first Silver Slugger in 2012. He has also been a finalist for the Gold Glove in the past few seasons, and he will win one eventually.
Another plus for Bruce is that he is already inked to a long-term deal and has expressed interest in spending his entire career in Cincinnati. His contract isn't huge by any means, so the team has an All-Star locked up for a reasonable amount.
The Case for Shin-Soo Choo
As stated above, Choo leads the majors in several major categories and has helped the Reds get back to being an offensive power.
He's also on pace to smash his previous career-high of 22 home runs. Choo has always been able to hit doubles, as he hit 43 of them last season, but those doubles are leaving the park in Cincinnati.
The biggest reason the Reds will think about re-signing Choo is how productive he has been at the top of the lineup.
His .310 average batting first with the Cleveland Indians last season put him third in the majors among those with at least 400 at-bats there, and his .389 OBP was the second-highest for a leadoff hitter.
In 2013, he has increased his totals and taken over the top spot in each of those categories. He currently owns a .322 average and a .465 OBP, with the latter being nearly 80 points higher than second place.
His defense isn't stellar, but he does have a cannon for an arm that compares to Bruce's.
The point of bringing Choo to Cincinnati was to have runners on base for Votto and Bruce. Choo has exceeded expectations so far and continues to find ways to get on base.
Choo has been a bargain at $7.375 million this season, but he's due for a hefty raise when he hits the open market this offseason. John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer speculated early in the season that it would probably cost around $12 million per season to keep Choo, but that number has gone up with his performance.
Meanwhile, Bruce's base salary won't top $13 million at any point in his current contract. By the time his deal expires in 2017 (assuming the team picks up his option), Phillips will be at the end of his contract as well. More money will be available at that time, especially if the team continues to make the postseason.
If the Reds attempt to re-sign Choo in the offseason, it won't be to play center. He would have to shift over to left, which means the club would have to do something with Ryan Ludwick. The Reds could keep Ludwick in left and Choo in center for one more year to give prospect Billy Hamilton more time to develop, but it wouldn't be a permanent solution.
Who should the Reds keep for the future?
If Bruce ends up as the odd man out, who would be driving in runs behind Phillips and Votto?
The Reds showed last year that they don't need a leadoff hitter to win. They won 97 games while having Drew Stubbs on the roster, so they can win with pitching and defense.
Having a leadoff man get on base will take the pressure off the pitching staff. Whether or not it translates into a deep playoff run has yet to be determined.
Six weeks into a season is way too early to start thinking about trading part of the team's core. Choo is going to cost much more than Bruce, and it's not worth giving up a player that could spend the rest of his career with the team for four or five years with a good leadoff hitter.
If Choo can keep getting on base, the Reds should find a way to free up some money to get in on the bidding war. As long as they can keep the core together, a good leadoff man could end up being the missing piece.
Cincinnati isn't going to trade Bruce, but it's an idea that has sparked a debate on the airwaves in the Queen City.
*All stats are from MLB.com
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