GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Jay Bruce knows enough about the way baseball works to know that the only reason he’s still a Red is his trade value isn’t what was in, say, 2013.
“I’m honest with myself,” he said. “I don’t try to tell myself a lot of lies or dress anything up. Had I played better the last year and a half to two years, I would have definitely been moved. There’s definitely more of a possibility that I’d have already been traded. That’s just the way it is. That’s the game.
“I know good and well that I’m not the player I was last year and I’m not the player I was in 2014," he said. "The only way I can prove that is to go out and actually do that and get back to the real me.”
Bruce showed up Sunday for his eleventh spring training. That’s right -- the former young guard of the Reds is wily veteran at 29 (he turns 30 the day before Opening Day).
“It happened quick,” he said.
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If Bruce returns to form this season, the club is likely to trade him. He hit .226 last year after hitting after hitting .217 in 2014. His power numbers returned last — 26 home runs, 35 doubles, 87 RBI — but his value is still down. Bruce won the Silver Sluggers as the best hitting right fielder in the National League in 2012 and 2013.
Bruce said coming into the season squarely on the trading block is not awkward for him.
“Not at all,” he said. “If it were somewhere else, it would be awkward right now. This is what I know, this organization has been much more to me than just a baseball team. I've been here since I was 18 years old, and this is all I know."
While Bruce isn't shy about his love for the Reds franchise, he takes the uncertainty in stride.
“I look forward to still being here and, if something does happen, I completely understand," he said. "It's part of the business. I mentioned before, obviously, I truly believe the Reds have to do everything they can to improve the organization and if they end up feeling that making a move with me is part of that plan, I respect them for that.”
His manager, Bryan Price, said he would rather it not be so public that the Reds are willing to trade Bruce and tried to trade Brandon Phillips.
“I think it’s the terrain we’re in now,” Price said. “There are really no great secrets. You’d love to be able to not have it out there. It’s probably good at times for certain players to know, especially guys that have been here, long tenured players with an organization – what you’re considering doing and why you’re considering doing it.
“Those are two long-tenured players," he said, referring to Phillips and Bruce. "This is the lay of the land for baseball. I think everybody knows our situation with some of the challenges we have financially and also trying to turn the roster around with some of our better players getting closer to free agency.”
“But it is uncomfortable," Price admitted.
Bruce was the typical “Affable Jay,” upon his arrival. Someone asked what he was doing. “I’m going around kissing babies,” he said. He wasn’t quite doing that, but he was meeting a lot of teammates for the first time.
“Just be a human being,” he said. “Talk to them, say hello, introduce yourself, get to know them, like you would anyone else. It's something that happens all the time, I've been fortunate enough to never have to move to a different organization, but most people do. That's part of it. I've never had a problem with new guys or learning new guys, it's something I enjoy doing, actually. I look forward to that.”
This isn't a new atmosphere for Bruce; he was part of the Reds' last rebuilding process.
“I came up in ’08. That was a get-your-feet-wet kind of deal. Then, '09 was really the only year they considered a rebuild," he said. "Then in 2010 we shocked the world. I hope that’s the case this year.”
If the Reds are to shock the world this year, they’re going to need Bruce, third on the team list in service time with 7-plus years, to lead this young group.
“I think that’s kind of something that’s decided for you,” Bruce said. “I’d like to think that with me and the way I go about my business and the way I do things, I’m much more of a lead-by-example. I think over the last couple years I’ve gotten the ear of some guys that respect me. I would like to think that kind of respect carries through the clubhouse. I’m not here to blow anybody up or embarrass anyone. I am here to continue to play the game in the right way.
“I was lucky enough to learn from some really good people how to (lead), mainly Scott Rolen. He’s a guy I always kind of go back to," Bruce said. "I definitely know what it is to be a professional and what professionalism is and taking your job seriously, and representing the name on the front of your jersey as well as the name on the back of your jersey as best you can.”
Bruce was his usual happy-to-be-there self upon his arrival in Goodyear. When February rolls around, he is ready for baseball.
“You don’t want to think about baseball when the season’s over," Bruce said. "Then, about January, I always start to get the itch again to get ready to go and look forward to getting back."
He compared the excitement of getting back to spring training to the first day of school.
"I was up here at like 9:30 last night setting my locker up...it was like the first day of school, picking out my outfit," he said. "I was ready to get here and see everybody. It was a bit of a reunion every year when you get back. That’s something that’s always fun and I always enjoy that. I’m ready to get to work.”
Although stressful at times, Bruce called the trade rumors "business as usual," especially for a team so focused on rebuilding.
“Until Opening Day comes, who knows what's going to happen. I'm ready to go, I'm a Red until I'm not,” Bruce said. “I know it comes with the territory, I just try to deal with that as professionally as I can. It's definitely a lot easier and a lot more calm and quiet when there aren't trade rumors going on -- it's an interesting time for the franchise. We haven't gone through a rebuilding situation like this in a long time.
"Like I said, I'm happy to be here, I'm looking forward to get going -- a lot of new names and faces to learn," he said. "I look forward to getting to know everybody and be a part of this thing.”