Thursday, July 13, 2006

A Reality Check ... Did Reds Really "Lose" In Today's Blockbuster Trade?!?

OK, I have scanned over a number of comments from my fellow fans so far, and I have seen very few which were positive in favor of the Cincinnati Reds getting the better part of this deal. As a lifelong Reds fan, I can say that I completely support any move at this stage of the season that strengthens the team's bullpen and delivers some hope to make a run for the playoffs. Why? Let's break it down...

Austin Kearns: Unquestionably, he is the most talented player involved in this trade. Kearns has been playing solid defense, has begun to learn to hit for average, and has more than enough power to be a threat in any team's lineup. I like Kearns personally, but, at the same time, his upside potential is limited to his ability to make contact. Austin swings for the fences (much like his counterpart Adam Dunn) but doesn't always reach his destination. It is harder for me to see Kearns go, but we have to give up something to get something.

Felipe Lopez: Lopez may have been the Reds' All-Star of 2005, but he has not been that same player this year. Barry Larkin, he is not. What Lopez had done well last season was hit for average and power as well as showcase awesome speed and good defensive range. What Felipe has failed to do this season is hit for as much power, strikeout more often (with a lower BA), and commit stupid errors at critical points in games. Whether his fielding ultimately cost his job remains to be seen, but it certainly did not help his cause.

Ryan Wagner: I thought Wagner was the closer in the wings when he made the team last season, but he has languished in AAA all season this year and failed to prove his ability to make the MLB club full-time with a variety of pitches. He has plenty of pop (95-99 mph on the gun), but his control needs work. He and Kearns may be the two we may regret down the road, while Lopez may ultimately be forgettable (imho).

So, for our three players (two ML'ers and one in AAA) we receive five players (indicating more players to offset the potential talent lost). I cannot say I am expert at our team's acquisitions, but here is my take on each ...

Gary Majewski: 26 yo righty with ML career with the Expos / Nationals. He does not appear to be overpowering, but his ERA was close to team-best for Washington last season (2.93) and one of the best this season (3.5, despite a bad outing (3 runs in 1/3 inning on Sunday) that raised it nearly 0.5 (from 3.11 to 3.5. Given the Reds have a bullpen ERA over 5.00 (at 5.16 before Thursday), Majewski is a net help immediately.

Bill Bray: Former 1st round pick (like Ryan Wagner, same draft) with upside potential and nice speed on the fastball. The 23 yo southpaw looks like the diamond in the rough for the Reds and is a key pitching prospect / talent from the Nationals' organization.

Royce Clayton: Almost anybody who follows baseball knows about Clayton. Clayton's strength is more about his defense than his batting, but, offensively, his best years may be behind him. Clearly a journeyman shortstop, he can still play everyday at the age of 36, but even his defense has weakened a bit with 11 errors this season to date. His best defensive seasons were with the Chicago White Sox in 2001 and 2002 with .988 and .989 FP%, respectively, as well as under 10 errors in each year (7 and 5, respectively). Clayton can be a fair sub for Lopez on a day-to-day basis if not platooning with Rich Aurilia and/or Ryan Freel around the infield, including Juan Castro and Brandon Phillips, who both can play at SS as well.

Brendan Harris: The bench player / pinch hitter should be a help for the infield with solid defensive skills as well as the ability to deliver a pinch hit in the clutch. Harris is only turning 26 yo in August, so I think his career potential has upside at this juncture. The Reds should feel comfortable with Harris as a late-inning defensive sub and/or another bat off the bench. But, the other Reds' players affected include ...

Ryan Freel: Freel may get a chance to be more of an everyday player with Kearns or Lopez around, but he will continue to find his niche here no matter what. His speed is impressive, and his defensive skills at a variety of positions make him a versatile, and valuable, utilityman.

Chris Denorfia: With the absence of Austin Kearns, Denorfia moves up from AAA to have an opportunity to take over RF full-time. His first audition earlier this season showed some of his worth, before being sent back to AAA in mid-May. He had four hits in only eight AB (.500) with seven game appearances on the season. GM Wayne Krivsky is very keen on Denorfia as an everyday player, and, in turning 26 on Saturday this week, Denorfia is ready to prove himself as an everyday player.

All in all, the bullpen of the Reds needed the most help, so having both Majewski and Bray should be a net benefit to a club that is offense-heavy and pitching-weak. Kearns will be missed for his solid and consistent play (and likely All-Star future) while Lopez will be missed for having failed to deliver what "could have been" in carrying on the tradition of Reds at SS with Concepcion and Larkin. Wagner's jury is still out, although I personally am a big supporter of the kid.

Majewski and Bray may not be Kearns and Lopez today, but, combining the two new Reds with the other three, the trade seems reasonable and balanced to me for a team in need of pitching.

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