Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Numbers Game written for Sportsblurb.com

posted by Jon Williams

The Cincinnati Reds were just 1.5 games out of the wild card position when they made the following trade with the Washington Nationals:

OF Austin Kearns

SS Felipe Lopez

RHP Ryan Wagner

For

RHP Gary Majewski

LHP Bill Bray

SS Royce Clayton

INF Brendan Harris

RHP Daryl Thompson

The first reaction of almost every baseball fan on the planet was to ask if Alfonso Soriano was missing from the list of players that the Nationals were sending over. I was flipping to ESPN2 between innings of the Red Sox/ Athletics game and I swear I thought I wasn’t seeing the whole trade on the bottom line. The Reds should have gotten a lot more for their starting right fielder and their starting shortstop. That they threw in a former top closer prospect in Ryan Wagner is just plain ridiculous. The problem is the Reds didn’t accurately read the market value for the players they traded. But as bad as this trade is rightfully considered by most it doesn’t really hurt the playoff chances of the Reds. Seriously, for what they sent to the Nationals they could have had Alfonso Soriano in my opinion. But despite their bad judgment the Reds may have accomplished their goal of improving and preparing for the playoffs.

Austin Kearns is easily replaced by either Ryan Freel or Chris Denorfia. Kearns is still just 26 years old and having his first healthy season in a decade but it doesn’t appear that his bat will ever again be considered the equal of Adam Dunn’s as so many projected years ago. But he was having a solid season for the Reds. Thus far Kearns has been hitting a respectable .272/.352/.489 and fielding his position well. The plan for now seems to be Denorfia in right and Freel continuing as the utility guy. Denorfia has been back and forth between Cincy and AAA Louisville which is never good for the numbers. Denorfia hits for a good average and knows how to get on base. He has a career line of .263 .364/.421in the majors through 2005 and a line of .286/.371/.432 in the minors. He’ll never match the power potential Kearns has displayed but his hustling scrappy style will probably go over well with Reds fans. If Denorfia gets 250 at-bats in the second half of the season I wouldn’t be surprised if he hit close to .300 with 8-10 homers and 8-10 stolen bases. The Reds think of Denorfia as a leadoff hitter and he could score a lot of runs in front of Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr.

Felipe Lopez has a superior bat to Royce Clayton but Clayton is a far more consistent defender. Clayton hasn’t been a total void with the bat this year and a small jump might be possible in the more hitter friendly GABP. But is the difference in defense worth the exchange of bats? Maybe. Lopez has a .959 FPCT, an RF of 3.98 and a ZR of .785 which compared to Clayton’s .970 FPCT, 4.37 RF and .829 ZR make him look pretty bad. Lopez has a hitting line of .268/.355/.394 and Clayton a line of .269/.315/.348. That isn’t a difference that’ll make you forget the defensive gap. Clayton will play everyday as long as he fields his position and doesn’t completely embarass himself at the plate. But my new favorite mid-season fantasy sleeper may put Clayton on the bench eventually. William Bergolla was one of the Reds top ten prospects in 2005 according to Baseball America. Go ahead and make your favorite joke about the Cincinnati farm system, I’ll wait... Done? Bergolla isn’t any thing amazing with the bat but he is an excellent fielder whose only real flaw in the field is an inability to stay healthy. His bat is probably only slightly better than Clayton’s at best but he makes up for it with vastly better speed. Bergolla led the Reds system three years in a row in stolen bases. He stole 52 bases in 2003 and was caught 18 times. The Reds have wanted to move him to shortstop in the past but his poor health got in the way. If the Brandon Phillips trade hadn’t worked out so well he’d probably be the second baseman right now. If you can stash him away for a buck or two you might find yourself in possession of a cheap source of stolen bases. Bergolla has a career minor league line of .289/.343/.377.

Ryan Wagner has been pretty terrible at AAA this year. There is the very real possibility that he isn’t yet recovered from shoulder surgery. If Wagner was the reliever the Reds were hoping they had two years back they may not have felt pressure to make a trade like this. Gary Majewski is probably an average major league reliever but he has a rubber arm and will take the ball everyday of the week if asked. Majewski will become a key set-up man for the new Reds closer Eddie Guardado. But the key acquisition for the Reds is Bill Bray. Bray was the 13th overall pick in the 2004 draft. He is a for real prospect. He throws a mid 90’s fastball and a low 80’s slider and can get outs effectively with either pitch. After signing he was sent to the Arizona Fall league where he pitched 16 innings and struck out 16 batters. Bray has been projected as a future major league closer and could potentially fill that role this year if Guardado’s injury problems prevent him from pitching effectively. By adding Bray, Majewski and Guardado the Reds bullpen is already leaps and bounds better than what they suffered through in the first half of the season.

In my opinion Wayne Krivsky is attempting to duplicate his success with Brandon Phillips by acquiring Brendan Harris. It isn’t a bad gamble to make. Harris hasn’t really been given the shot he probably deserved. When Harris was with the Cubs I heard him compared to Albert Pujols. Yeah, that’s ridiculous but Harris could still become a decent infielder with some pop in his bat. Picking up guys like Harris is exactly what a team with a thin farm system should do. Hell, they should make a collection of failed, stalled and ignored prospects in AAA. I don’t really expect he’ll play much more for the Reds than he did with the Nationals this year but 2007 is always a possibility. Rich Aurillia can’t hang around forever can he? Daryl Thompson is another shot in the dark. Thompson is a 20-year old pitching prospect that has drawn comparisons to Oil Can Boyd. While he has talent he is presently recovering from a shoulder injury. He also hasn’t advanced past A-ball which makes him hard to project.

The Reds are going to need all of these guys to work out as planned to have any hope of winning the public perception of this trade. That probably won’t happen. But if the Reds make the playoffs and players like Bray, Majewski and Denorfia play key roles then they might be forgiven.

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