July 13, 2006: The Cincinnati Reds trade Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez and Ryan Wagner to the Washington Nationals for Bill Bray, Royce Clayton, Brendan Harris, Gary Majewski and Daryl Thompson.

The 2005 Reds team was a team of transition. Following the 2004 season, all-time great shortstop Barry Larkin had retired, and Felipe Lopez had moved into the shortstop position. They had replaced most of their starting pitching staff as Jose Acevedo and Cory Lidle had been traded, and Paul Wilson only made nine starts in 2005 due to injury. Ramon Ortiz, Luke Hudson, and Eric Milton joined holdovers Aaron Harang and Brandon Claussen.

The 2004 team had three starting pitchers with ERAs over 5.00, but that didn’t improve in 2006. Three pitchers again had ERAs over 5.00, with two over 6.00, but the Reds relievers and defense held on enough to lower runs allowed by 18. The big difference in 2005 was that their offense improved by 70 runs, or almost one-half run per game. The Reds’ offense featured a set of four slugging outfielders, Ken Griffey, Jr., and youngsters Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns, and Wily Mo Pena. The team also had smooth swinging first baseman Sean Casey at first base and an offensive minded shortstop in Lopez. This team averaged over 5.125 runs per game, allowing almost 5.5 runs per game.

Reds general manager Dan O’Brien was fired in January of 2006, and replaced by Wayne Krivsky who went about working on upgrading the starting pitching again for the Reds.

Deciding to deal from a position of strength in the outfield, Krivsky traded Pena to the Red Sox for starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo, giving the Reds a formidable one-two punch at the top of the rotation. Arroyo had his best major league season in 2006, going 14-11 with a 3.29 ERA, leading the league in starts and innings pitched. Harang also had one of his best seasons, going 16-11 with a 3.73 ERA and leading the league in complete games and tying Arroyo for the lead in starts. Their relief corps was piecemeal by nature. Eight different relievers earned saves for the Reds in 2006, led by David Weathers‘s 12. By the all-star break, the Reds pitching staff had improved, decreasing their runs allowed per game to 5.20.

On offense, the Reds made some major changes. In addition to trading Pena, they dealt popular first baseman Sean Casey to the Pirates and replaced him with free agent Scott Hatteberg. They dealt for new 2B Brandon Phillips and Edwin Encarnacion was now the third baseman. With all the changes, the Reds maintained their same run scoring average as the previous season, 5.03 runs per game, but were still allowing 5.20 runs per game. The Reds were 45-44 at the all-star break, four games behind the first place Cardinals.

The Reds targeted their starting pitching and bullpen for additional improvements. In the month of July alone, the Reds acquired starting pitcher Kyle Lohse and veteran lefty relievers Rheal Cormier and Eddie Guardado. They also made what is sometimes called “The Trade” in recent Cincinnati lore…they dealt starting right fielder Austin Kearns, starting shortstop Felipe Lopez, and relief prospect Ryan Wagner for relievers Bill Bray and Gary Majewski, infielders Royce Clayton and Brendan Harris, and starting pitcher prospect Daryl Thompson. They had also recently acquired veteran infielder Juan Castro as the Reds vowed to improve their defense and pitching. The Reds felt positioned to make a charge at the Cardinals.

It didn’t work. The Reds were first place by percentage points over the Cardinals on August 24, with a 67-61 record, but went only 13-21 down the stretch as injuries, the lack of offense, and the defense/pitching just couldn’t keep up. The pitching improved slightly, dropping from 5.20 runs allowed to 5.10 runs allowed per game. However, their hitting fell through the floor with their runs scored per game dropping from 5.03 to 4.12 runs per game, nearly one less run per game. Their post all-star record was 35-38, giving them an overall record of 80-82, finishing third, 3 1/2 games out of first place.

With the Reds, Kearns had an .843 OPS and Lopez compiled an OPS of .749. Kearns’s OPS was .810 with the Nationals in a tougher hitting atmosphere. Lopez’s Washington OPS was .720. Clayton was Lopez’s replacement in Cincinnati as Krivsky was looking for more defense from his shortstop. However, Clayton’s defense wasn’t any better than Lopez’s, and his OPS was .619. Ryan Freel took Kearns’s spot in the outfield and posted an OPS of .762. As for pitchers, Majewski’s ERA was 8.40, Bray’s was 4.23, Lohse’s was 4.57, Cormier was 4.50 and Guardado went on the DL. Harris and Thompson were sent to the minor leagues.

Since that time, the principles have had mixed results. Austin Kearns has had injury troubles and has never regained his rookie year form. In the three years since that time, his OPS has been over .650 just once. Lopez did not hit well in his 1 1/2 seasons with the Nationals, but has hit well with the Cardinals (.964 OPS), Diamondbacks (.775), and Brewers since then (.903). Reliever Ryan Wagner did not pitch well and has retired from baseball.

Majewski, Bray, and Thompson all battled injuries since coming to the Reds and have pitched a total of 180 innings for the Reds between the three of them over three seasons. Clayton was released and played 77 more major league games before retiring. The Reds traded Harris to the Devil Rays and is now with the Twins, and he is playing well to this day. He’s batted .286, .265, and .261 as a starting infielder for the three years since leaving Reds.