Washington Nationals general manager Jim Bowden pulled off a major deal for his young Nationals squad, as he acquired a dearth of talent from his ex-employers in the Cincinnati Reds. The Nats received outfielder Austin Kearns, shortstop Felipe Lopez and reliever Ryan Wagner in exchange for reliever Gary Majewski as well as fellow reliever Bill Bray, shortstop Royce Clayton, second baseman Brendan Harris pitcher Daryl Thompson.
The Reds received help to shore up their dismal bullpen, which has struggled all season. Their middle relievers have been the problem, and now that they have closer Eddie Guardado, they feel they have enough viable setup men to get the game into the ninth inning for Guardado to shut the door. However, they gave up a lot to add middle relief help.
Bray is the highlight of this trade. The Nationals (then the Montreal Expos) selected the left-handed Bray, No. 13 overall in the 2004 draft, and he was fast-tracked to the majors this season. He didn't experience a lot of success in the minors though, as he was 3-6 with a 4.40 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP but did have 55 strikeouts in 47 innings his first two seasons. Earlier this year, he went 4-1 with a 3.98 ERA, 45 strikeouts in 31 2/3 innings and five saves. Good strikeout numbers, but the ERA is still too high for a reliever. He has carried that experience over this season with a 2-1 record, a 3.75 ERA and 16 Ks in 24 innings. However, pitching in the Great American Ball Park is much different than pitching in the spacious RFK Stadium.
Majewski is a very solid middle reliever and is the most useful of the bunch right now. He's 3-2 with a 3.97 ERA, which is a bit of a far cry from his solid 2005 season, which saw him at a 2.93 ERA in 86 innings.
Clayton is an upgrade defensively, and the ballpark change should pad the goose egg that is his home run total. Harris was a former top echelon prospect with the Chicago Cubs, but now at 26, one has to wonder if he'll ever make it.
Thompson was 2-3 in 11 starts at Class A Savannah last season with 48 strikeouts in 53 2/3 innings. Thompson, 20, was an eighth-round selection of the Expos in the 2003 draft.
Kearns, 26, has been on the cusp of stardom for a few years now, but injuries have kept him in check. He's hitting .267 with 16 homers, 50 RBI, 54 runs and eight steals. He has had a rough way to go since joining the Nationals, as he's just 1-for-12 with a stolen base. Adjusting to the bigger ballpark will likely hurt his power numbers a little bit. However, he still should have a very good season. One must wonder why the Reds decided to trade him now after they refused a number of deals last year for him that were of much more value.
Lopez, 26, came into his own last year hitting .291 with 23 homers, 85 RBI, 97 runs and 15 steals. He has struggled a bit this year with a .261 average, but he has nine homers, 30 RBI, 55 runs plus 23 steals. He, too, has struggled since coming to Washington by going 1-for-13. He gives the team a long-term shortstop, which is something they thought they had when they signed Cristian Guzman to a four-year deal.
Wagner, 24, is the most intriguing piece. He was drafted in 2003 and came up to appear in 17 games that season and had a lot of success with a 2-0 record, a 1.66 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 21 2/3 innings. He has struggled ever since, which includes a 6.34 ERA at Triple-A Louisville, and a rocking four-run appearance in his debut for Triple-A New Orleans. However, the kid still has good stuff. With the team having control of closer Chad Cordero for another few years, he and Wagner could be a devastating one-two punch at the end of the bullpen.
So what were the Reds thinking giving up two starting positional players along with a struggling young arm with loads of potential for a good middle reliever, a promising prospect, a defensive shortstop, a journeyman prospect and a marginal 20-year-old prospect? The National League Central division is a very winnable division, but to mortgage the future in a year when the American League is dominating just doesn't make a lot of sense.
If you own Kearns, stand pat. We think he's going to have a good year still, and it's very unlikely an opposing owner gives you much in return for him. Lopez should see a decrease in power, but his steal potential increases under manager Frank Robinson. Keep an eye on Wagner. Next season, he should be back on par with his electric rookie campaign. In the end, this is likely going to be the first strike against a successful run for Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky.
Dodson is a KFFL Contributor and has been with KFFL since 2002.