Thanks to excellent performances from Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang, as well as useful starts from Elizardo Ramirez, the Reds have been able to stay in contention for the Wild Card. As usual the offense was one of the tops in the league, but the bullpen was an absolute mess. The Reds needed to shore up their pen if they planned on contending for any length of time in 2006.
So what did Cincy do? They dealt away two of the better players on their team in order to improve their bullpen so they could remain in contention. Let's take a look at the trade, and try to see if Cincy gained anything from this transaction.
Nationals get outfielder Austin Kearns, shortstop Felipe Lopez and reliever Ryan Wagner in exchange for relievers Bill Bray and Gary Majewski, shortstop Royce Clayton, utility man Brendan Harris and pitching prospect Daryl Thompson.
First of all, let's check the differences in production for the positional players involved, using positionally-adjusted Net Runs Above Average.
The Nationals clearly acquired the two better positional players in the deal, and Felipe Lopez most likely is more valuable than his showing so far this year. Even with his awful defensive play -- note the -12.45 runs above average defensively -- his bat makes up for it at a weak offensive position. Considering the Nats have had Cristian Guzman and Royce Clayton manning shortstop for them the past two seasons, Lopez might soon have a monument erected in his honor in downtown Washington for his lack of suckitude. By the way, I used Harris' PECOTA projection to calculate his pNRAA; I figured the handful of games he's played in this year wouldn't be a fair assessment of his value.
Austin Kearns is certainly the prize of the trade. He's an above average defender in right with an excellent bat that may even improve in the next few seasons as he enters his peak. Bowden has been all over acquiring Kearns since he took over as General Manager in Washington, and he finally picked up his guy.
Of course, no one knows if the Nats plan on keeping Kearns or Lopez in the long run. They are both valuable trading pieces in a thin market, and the Nats most likely will not contend in the very near future. Considering the Phillies are trying to retool, the Marlins are going to be all kinds of successful and the Mets are already prepared for the next 2-3 years, the near future might not be the time to try and win in Washington, especially with a farm system that has nothing to show. I hate to use part of a conversation in a post, but yesterday Jeff Sackmann said, "Just because Bill Bray is one of the Nats most major league ready prospects doesn't mean he's any good." I think that sums up my feelings perfectly. I really don't think I have to say anything about Royce Clayton, do I? Felipe Lopez > Royce Clayton, and Felipe Lopez > Brendan Harris. Also, the Reds now have Royce Clayton and Juan Castro taking up spots on their 25 man roster; I hear they're trying to pry Neifi Perez away from the Cubs to complete the futility infield of the future.
Bray has had some promising peripherals at times with some nifty looking K/BB ratios, but he looks like he might give up too many homeruns, and his control hasn't come to him in the majors yet. Bray may turn out to be a fine pitcher; he's still very young, and his ascension to the majors was quick. I'm just not so sure he's capable of saving the bullpen in his rookie season, which was the purpose of acquiring him in the first place. Gary Majewski has a WXRL (lineup-adjusted Win Expectation above Replacement) of 0.015, good for eighth on the Nats, and 175th overall (15 innings pitched minimum). So he's somewhere in the middle of the pack in that regard.
Daryl Thompson actually looks like a useful enough pitcher, although at only 20 years old he could use some more seasoning in the minors. The Reds better hope he turns into a spectacular pitcher, or else this deal is going to be a complete bust. I really don't know what to say about it. I understand that the bullpen needed help, but they traded away two valuable players and didn't receive any such help, and decided that they would waste another roster spot on a useless veteran in the process. I feel bad for Cincinnati fans who may have thought their team would make the playoffs this year, because it was certainly a possibility. Now, I'm not so sure.