Why the Reds won't part with Pokey Reese--even for Junior
Reds general manager Jim Bowden estimated that he invested
nearly five hours a day for five weeks trying to obtain Ken
Griffey Jr. in a trade with the Mariners. "My personal favorite
player," he calls the Seattle centerfielder. Bowden knew it
could be one of those seismic, franchise-changing acquisitions,
as Mark McGwire was for the Cardinals, Nolan Ryan was for the
Astros and Babe Ruth was for the Yankees. Bowden considered
every option that might make the deal happen--every option, that
is, but the notion of giving up a 180-pound middle infielder
with a .258 career batting average.
At a news conference last Saturday at the winter meetings in
Anaheim, an anguished Bowden didn't just announce that he had
abandoned all hope of trading for Griffey--for the time being,
anyway. He also formally introduced Calvin (Pokey) Reese to the
world. Say hello to the man who (as of Monday, at least) was too
valuable to put in a deal for Junior.
Bowden never did refer to Reese by name, saying only that he and
Seattle G.M. Pat Gillick moved "not a centimeter" over the past
five weeks in their talks because "we just couldn't get past
that particular player." Several sources said Gillick kept
asking for package after package that started with Reese--the
last of which also included righthanded reliever Scott
Williamson, the 1999 National League Rookie of the Year;
lefthanded pitching prospect Ty Howington, the Reds' No. 1 draft
pick this year; and highly regarded shortstop prospect Travis
Dawkins. Bowden kept saying no, and by Saturday he'd had enough.
Until last week Reese, 26, was known, if at all, as a Gold Glove
second baseman who wore cornrows last season to honor Allen
Iverson, his favorite NBA player, and who enjoyed a quiet
breakout season (his third in the majors but first playing full
time) with modest numbers at the plate: a .285 average, 10 home
runs, 52 RBIs, 38 stolen bases in 45 attempts and a .330 on-base
percentage--12 points worse than the league average. He finished
10th at his position in All-Star balloting.
More important than Reese's past is his future: The Reds view
him as the possible replacement for 35-year-old shortstop Barry
Larkin. (Cincinnati offered Larkin to other clubs at the winter
meetings.) The team's brass believes Reese is superior in range,
throwing arm and reliability to the Mets' Rey Ordonez, generally
regarded as baseball's best defensive shortstop.
"He's better than Larkin--way better," says one National League
manager of Reese. "I wouldn't have put him in a deal for
Griffey, either. He's that good. He's going to hit for average,
steal bases, play hard and be the best fielding shortstop in the
game. And he's still young."
Another manager, the Diamondbacks' Buck Showalter, says, "I
thought there were two or three games this year when the Reds
beat us just because of Pokey Reese, especially on defense. I
know [writers and fans] talked about the Gold Glove being a
toss-up between [the Mets'] Edgardo Alfonzo and Pokey Reese.
Everybody in baseball knew it was no contest. He's that good."
He'd better be, lest he join those infamously unworthy of such
precious treatment--the likes of centerfielder Jim Edmonds (whom
the Angels wouldn't give up to get McGwire) and righthander
Jaret Wright (whom the Indians wouldn't ship to the Expos to
land Pedro Martinez). "That's not pressure," Reese says.
"Getting to the big leagues--that was pressure. If people want
to ask me about it, that's fine. They can come at me all they
want. But they should talk to Jim Bowden. It wasn't me who
didn't make the trade. I'm just honored to be mentioned in the
same sentence as Ken Griffey. And I hope we get to see me, Barry
Larkin and Ken Griffey playing up the middle."
That still may very well happen. Brian Goldberg, the agent for
Griffey, said on Sunday that his client would use his
contractual right to block potential trades to all teams but
Cincinnati, undercutting Gillick's efforts to create a market in
talks with the Cardinals, Indians, Mets and Pirates.
Retooling the Rockies
The new cleanup hitter for the Rockies, Jeff Cirillo, has never
hit more than 15 home runs or driven in more than 88 runs in a
season, modest power levels he reached in 1999 for the Brewers.
Recently hired Colorado general manager Dan O'Dowd expects that
to change. His computer analysis, based on a three-year study of
Coors Field's effect on hitters, estimates that if Cirillo had
played last season for the Rockies, he would have hit 25 homers
and driven in 115 runs. O'Dowd's program also projects a .353
batting average (up from .326), .425 on-base percentage (from
.401) and .517 slugging percentage (from .461).
While those numbers are conjecture, O'Dowd's whirlwind makeover
of the Rockies is decidedly real. The choreographer of a complex
four-team, nine-player trade on Monday, O'Dowd has morphed
Colorado--last in the National League West in '99 with a 72-90
record--from a slow, slugging ball club to one he calls "more of
a multidimensional team." In a span of 43 days O'Dowd traded,
sold or released 12 players from his 40-man roster while adding
15. O'Dowd has picked up fleet outfielders who can cover Coors
Field's expansive lawn (Tom Goodwin and Jeffrey Hammonds);
young, hard-throwing starters who keep the ball down (righties
Rolando Arrojo, Manny Aybar and Jose Jimenez); and Cirillo.
In the Monday deal Colorado sent third baseman Vinny Castilla to
the Devil Rays. Castilla, 32, bombed 159 homers over the past
four years, but the Rockies were concerned by last season's
44-point drop in his batting average (to .275) and declining
range at third. Castilla can demand a trade after next season,
though the Devil Rays hope to sign him to an extension. "With
Vinny Castilla, Fred McGriff and Jose Canseco"--and Greg Vaughn,
whom the Devil Rays signed on Monday evening--"we're heading
toward being an American League club," says G.M. Chuck LaMar of
his team's power base. Last season only the Twins (105) hit
fewer homers than the Devil Rays (145).
Meanwhile, under O'Dowd and new manager Buddy Bell, the
erstwhile Blake Street Bombers will emphasize situational
hitting, on-base percentage and defense to try to catch up with
the West champion Diamondbacks, who finished 28 games ahead of
the Rockies. "I'm not going to say how much ground we've closed
on them," says O'Dowd, whose most recent previous post was as
the Indians' director of baseball operations and assistant
general manager from 1993 to '98. "We're just trying to push
this in the right direction."
For complete stats and off-season news, plus notes from Tom
Verducci, go to cnnsi.com/baseball.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO The Reds value highly the many ways the pesky Reese, a good base stealer, can beat you.
COLOR PHOTO: JOEL ZWINK New Met Zeile hopes his zeal will be renewed by a quicker pace of play.
THE HOT CORNER
Erstwhile Rangers third baseman Todd Zeile happily bolted for
the Mets and the National League partly because he was fed up
with the glacial pace and slugfest mentality of the American
League. "If the people in Texas hadn't been so nice, it would
have been a no-brainer," said free agent Zeile, who last
Saturday accepted a three-year, $18 million contract to play
first base in New York. The Rangers will look at free agents Ed
Sprague and Tony Fernandez, as well as rookie Mike Lamb, as
possible replacements for Zeile at third....
Though the Cubs traded utility infielder Manny Alexander to get
outfielder Damon Buford from the Red Sox, don't expect Buford to
be Chicago's every-day centerfielder. The Cubs are looking for a
lefthanded hitter to share the job with him, such as the
Marlins' Todd Dunwoody. Whoever patrols center in Wrigley Field
is merely holding the position for one year, when hot prospect
Corey Patterson is expected to be ready....
The Cubs also prospered last week from the Dodgers' urge to trim
their bloated payroll by getting talented 26-year-old
righthander Ismael Valdes and second baseman Eric Young from
L.A. for erratic righty reliever Terry Adams, minor league
pitcher Chad Ricketts and a player to be named later. Los
Angeles, which will save at least $8.5 million next season with
the deal, insisted that whoever wanted Valdes would have to take
Young and the $9 million owed him over the next two years. After
the Rangers balked at trading righty reliever Jeff Zimmerman to
Los Angeles, the Cubs took less than 48 hours to move on
The Braves are so encouraged by the health of Andres Galarraga
that they expect him to be their Opening Day first baseman next
April after missing all of 1999 while undergoing treatment for
bone cancer. Galarraga is cleared to resume batting practice