Last week, the nine-year anniversary of what was originally thought of as a strange-and-probably-one-sided eight-player trade with flawed pieces occurred between the Reds and the Washington Nationals.
To the Reds (45-44): shortstop Royce Clayton, reliever Bill Bray, reliever Gary Majewski, infielder Brendan Harris, and minor league pitcher Daryl Thompson.
To the Nationals (38-52): outfielder Austin Kearns, shortstop Felipe Lopez, and reliever Ryan Wagner.
What We Knew In 2006
1) Surprisingly in playoff contention,Ã‚Â the Reds were desperate to make massiveÃ‚Â bullpenÃ‚Â changes
Upon being named the majority owner of the Reds in January 2006, Bob Castellini promised to bring a winning baseball team back to Cincinnati. At the time of the trade, the Reds were only four games out of first in the National League Central. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not unfathomable to think that Castellini told then-general manager Wayne Krivsky to do all he could to make the playoffs.
At the time of the trade — which went down the day the second half of the season began — the Reds’ top priority was the rectify a bullpen that was nothing short of a blazing dumpster fire. Prior to the All-Star break, Reds relievers owned aÃ‚Â 4.66 xFIP, ranked 14th out of 16 NL squads in strikeout-minus-walk rate, were dead last in the majors in fWAR despite throwing the third-fewest innings of any NL bullpen.
KrivskyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s first move was to acquire veteran reliever Eddie Guardado from the Mariners. Next came the massive swap withÃ‚Â the Nationals, and as a result of their desire to do anything and everything possible to fix the bullpen, the Reds traded away two productive position players in Kearns and Lopez. (More on that below.)
Krivsky knew he was taking a monumental risk.
“We paid a steep price,” Krivsky said at the time of the trade. “I’m sure this will be a controversial trade. I know a lot of people will be leaving nasty messages on my voicemail, and I’ll have some who think it’s great.”
As the second half of the season wore on, Krivsky executed trades for reliever Rheal Cormier (from the Phillies), starter Kyle Lohse (from the Twins), reliever Ryan Franklin (from the Mariners), and reliever Scott Schoeneweis (from the Blue Jays) without giving up much of anything.
2) Nationals GM Jim Bowden liked his former players
The Nationals general managerÃ‚Â was Jim Bowden, who drafted Kearns (Ã¢â‚¬Ëœ98) and Wagner (Ã¢â‚¬Ëœ03), and acquired Lopez (Ã¢â‚¬Ëœ02) during his previous jobÃ‚Â as GM of the Reds. All three players were former first-round picks. (Kearns and Lopez were actually taken seventh and eighth by the Reds and Blue Jays, respectively, in the 1998 draft.)
Looking back, it was certainly strange to see the Reds part with two productive position players who were under club control through 2008. That was especially the case with Kearns (.274/.351/.492 slash pre-trade, 110 OPS+, 112 wRC+), who was in the midst of a career season. Kearns finished the season with 3.9 fWAR, which would be the highest of his career. (It should be noted that Kearns dealt with recurring injury issues from 2002-05.)
Lopez (.268/.355/.394 pre-trade, 90 OPS+, 23 steals), who was coming off an All-Star season with the Reds after slashing .291/.352/.486 with 23 homers and a wRC+ of 116 in 2005, was a dreadful defensive shortstop (-23 Defensive Runs Saved for entire 2006 season) and finished with a fWAR of 1.9 in 2006.
When factoring all of that in, the trade appeared to be a wash in WashingtonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s favor after 2006 season. Bowden — who was also hankering to acquire doomed slugger and ex-Red Wily Mo Pena, too (and eventually did in 2007) — certainly thought so.
“When you have a chance to trade a middle reliever for an everyday player, that’s helpful. Over the long run, when you look at people’s careers, pitchers are more of a risk as far as injuries than everyday players,” Bowden said post-trade. “It was difficult to trade Majewski and Bray. We feel they are two of the best young relievers in the league. We didn’t want to trade them, but in order to acquire players of the caliber of Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez, you are going to have to give up a lot.”
It was also revealed that under former Reds owner Carl Lindner, CincinnatiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s front office was banned from engaging in business with Bowden. Bowden revealed that he and Krivsky started talking about a possible trade right when Krivsky was hired as Reds GM in February of 2006.
Also, Majewski was a disputed figure with Washington, where he (roughly)Ã‚Â maintained his peripheral stats from 2004-06. The MLB.com story noted the following:
Some members of the organization felt that he was negatively influenced by then-bullpen coach John Wetteland, who was accused of changing Majewski’s personality, a charge that Majewski denied. It appeared to some that Majewski cared more about shooting firecrackers and pulling pranks than winning ballgames.
What We KnowÃ‚Â Now
1) The trade failed to significantly impact the Reds’ chances ofÃ‚Â overachieving andÃ‚Â winning a weak NL Central
Even without the benefit of the more well-rounded and soundly researched baseball analysis that is commonplace today, it was flat-out weird to see the Reds yield Kearns and Lopez for a 36-year-old shortstop, two bullpen pieces, and two throw-ins.
To replace Kearns, the Reds mostly turned to Ryan Freel (.238/.340/.350 second-half slash; 2 DRS) in right field. At shortstop, Clayton (38 second-half starts; .235/.290/.329 slash; -2 DRS) wound up in somewhat of a timeshare with 34-year-old Rich Aurilia (23 second-half starts; .332/.378/.547 slash; -6 DRS).
The revamped bullpen did see some improvement. In the second half of the season, Reds relievers registered a 4.28 xFIP (seventh in NL), ranked 13th out of 16 NL teams in strikeout-minus-walk rate, and were 18th in the majors in fWAR.
The Reds stayed in the race through most of August and were tied for first after a win on Aug. 24. Cincinnati then flat-lined, losing six straight. The Reds got back within 2.5 games of first with five games left in the season, but the club finished 80-82 — with a Pythagorean W-L of 76-86 — 3.5 games behind the first-place St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals went on to win the World Series despite finishing the regular season 83-78.
2) The trade failed to significantly impact the short or long-term successes or failures of either club
The trade did notÃ‚Â alter the space-time continuum of either organization. The Nationals were terrible from 2006-10, posting a .409 winning percentage and losing 100+ games twice. However, all of that losing helped filterÃ‚Â in an influx of highly drafted talent (Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, etc) into the club. Since 2012, Washington has won 98, 86, and 96 games, and is on pace for 89 victories and its third NL East title in four years this season.
As for the Reds-turned-Nationals, Wagner posted FIPs of 4.78 and 5.28 with the Nationals in 2006 and 2007, respectively. He pitched in the minors from 2008-09 before retiring in May of 2009. Kearns parted as a free agent after the 2009 season, accounting for 3.7 fWAR from 2007-09. Lopez was released by the Nationals on July 31, 2008, racking up -1.5 fWAR from 2007 through his departure from Washington. Amid a federal investigation into signing bonus skimming, Bowden resigned on March 1, 2009.
On the Reds side, ClaytonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s stay was the shortest; he left after the 2006 season. Harris appeared in eight games in 2006, then was purchased by the Tampa Bay Rays in January 2007. Thompson made three starts for the Reds in 2008 (6.69 FIP) and pitched three innings of relief in 2011, his final stintÃ‚Â with the Reds before leaving as a free agent. Majewski was nowhere close to 100 percent when the Reds acquired him — maybe the Reds shouldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve upheld that trade embargo with Bowden — and over parts of three seasons in Cincinnati, the right-hander recorded aÃ‚Â 4.81 FIP in 78 innings.
In fact, the only player who managed any longevity with the either club was Bray, who threw 171.1 innings and logged aÃ‚Â 3.81 FIP for the Reds over six seasons from 2006-08 and 2010-12. (Shameless plug.)
So, in retrospect, neither team Ã¢â‚¬Å“wonÃ¢â‚¬Â the trade. Flawed trade pieces were exchanged, and most of those pieces flamed out. In the end, both franchises climbed out of their respective pits of despair and found periods of success.