AND SO IT BEGINS ....
The Nationals announced on Thursday afternoon that they traded half of their team (well, sort of: Gary Majewski, Billy Bray, Clayton, Brendan Harris and Daryl Thompson) to the Cincinnati Reds for Austin Kearns, shortstop Felipe Lopez and pitcher Ryan Wagner.
This was an important trade for the Nationals. Oh sure, the players coming to Washington are fairly big names, and the Nationals are now a much better team offensively, but that's not what I'm talking about. The fact that this trade was even made says a lot about the team's seemingly bright future. Did you notice that the team took on more payroll than it cut? Certainly, this is but the first move among many, but Bowden has begun to lay the foundation for this team as he envisions it. This trade would never have been made last year, or the year before that, or the year before that .... well, you get the idea. For the first time, Jim Bowden was sitting at the trade table with the "big boys" without a high-chair. He's now in charge of a real team, with real money, and, apparently, lots of it.
Many bloggers are curious if Kearns and Lopez are going to remain with the club, or are they going to be traded away as part of some other package that Bowden is creating. Forget about it. During an interview on WTEM earlier this afternoon, Bowden said that one of his first priorities this off season will be to sign Kearns and Lopez to multi-year contracts. No, he believes that these two players are now part of the nucleus of the team's next incarnation.
I took a couple of hours to think about the "talent" side of the trade. Initially, it looked like a steal. I kept waiting for the "but" to show itself, but so far, the trade is "but-less." The general consensus around the Nats blog-o-sphere is that it was a heck-of-a-deal. What are other people saying? Keith Law, ESPN: "Do you think Jim Bowden took a little pleasure in thoroughly robbing the organization that fired him in 2003?
If not, perhaps he should, because he just pushed the Reds to the back of the NL playoff queue, and in the process picked up three players who entered the Reds' organization while he was their GM." Redleg Nation: "This is the worst trade ever. Okay, that's an exaggeration. But it's not an exaggeration by much. The Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals swapped 8 players today." From another Reds' blog: "Nationals GM Jim Bowden should have a warrant out for his arrest at this hour, because he just committed highway robbery." Jimmy left this comment at Redleg Nation: "Shouldn't Bowden have bought us dinner before screwing us like this?" So, based on the immediate reaction to the trade, I think it's pretty obvious that the Reds got hosed.
But wait! There's more! What did Reds' GM Larry Krivisky say about the deal? "We paid a steep price. 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." From what I can tell, big guy, they're mostly of the "nasty" variety.
But how? How could Jim Bowden, a GM that the Reds were leery of to begin with, plunder the Reds by stealing 25% of the team's starting lineup? My guess is that the Reds GM Wayne Krivsky was tired of reading headlines like the one that appeared on his own team's website: "Bullpen slows Reds in first half." The Reds, full of lumbering power-hitters, is about to be transformed into a club that is solid both defensively as well as in the bullpen. Remember, Krivsky traded for Seattle's Eddie Guardado just last week. He acknowledged that the bullpen was in dire need of new blood. No more 13-10 games for the Reds. At least, that's what Krivsky is hoping.
Many are comparing Austin Kearns with former National Brad Wilkerson. Well, if you're just looking at low batting average and high strikeouts, then sure, they're similar. But Kearns has shown more power in the past and without a doubt will hit many more homers than Wilkerson over the next half-decade or so. Kearns, unlike Wilkerson, has a "plus" arm and is a "plus" defender. And plueease, let's not do the "he played in a pitcher's park" scenario; Alfonso Soriano pretty much dispelled that myth.
Now, I've got to admit something here. When I heard of the trade, and saw the names of the players coming to Washington, I thought that Felipe Lopez was some 5th outfielder type -- a throw in. And even then, I thought it was a good trade for the Nationals. Once I looked up his stats, I was stunned. TSN's scouting report says of Lopez, "A naturally gifted athlete, Lopez also shows remarkable poise at the plate. He's got impressive power for a middle infielder and has a solid swing from both sides of the plate. He boasts a terrific arm and quick feet." On the downside, they say, is his high strikeout rate and questionable baserunning skills. That said, the 26 year old is on the way to a .268-17-56 season with 43 stolen bases and a .355 OBP.
So, I'm thinking, this guy is an ideal leadoff hitter; maybe he'll bat first in our lineup. "Oh wait," I thought, "we've got Alfonso Sorinao leading off." Well, not for much longer. We know that Soriano doesn't hit well unless he's leading off, something he's proven again this year. I have to believe that Kearns' bat replaces Soriano in the outfield, and Lopez' speed replaces Soriano at the top of the order. It makes too much sense not to happen that way.
Now, what to make of the whole "rebuilding with youth" scenario that we've been waiting for since, oh, I don't know, May maybe? This isn't building for the future. Keith Law at ESPN.com said that the Nationals starting eight, as they are now constitutedued, is a playoff contending unit. Of course, he's not taking into account that the pitching sucks, or that some/many of the team's position players are on there way out. Nonetheless, I was surprised that the newest Nationals are veterans, and not rookies.
One thing to consider, however, when saying that the Nationals "took" the Reds. Reports out of Cincinnati are suggesting that Gary Majewski will be the closer next year (Guardado will remain the closer through the remainder of 2006). So if you look at Majewski at a "closer," then the trade seems to make a little more sense.
It was a good day for the Washington Nationals. If this is the Jim Bowden who'll be running the Nats, and not the one who signed Cristian Guzman, then I'm happy. Very happy, indeed.
(forgive any typos -- I tried to get this on the site as quickly as I could)
You're one of my very favorite readers, and should start up your on blog to display your baseball knowledge.
But I'm not agreeing with you on this one. I am a firm believer that you add your middle-relievers when the rest of your roster is set. You can pick up guys like Mike Stanton et. al. pretty easily and very cheaply. You sign them to a one-year deal, then go back out the following winter and trawl for middle-relievers once again. It works. I agree that Majewski / Bray have the potential to be this generations' Dibble / Meyers tandem in the pen. But the Nats now have two guys who will combine for 45 homers and 185 rbi's a season for a long time. Are they stars? No way. But a championship doesn't hang on the super-stars, but rather the guys on the next level, guys like Lopez and Kearns.
As far as the "trash" goes, give Bowden time -- they'll all be gone shortly.
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