Early returns on Cincinnati's heavily criticized bullpen deal were positive,brightening the team's playoff outlook
Wayne Krivsky isnot a recognizable face in Cincinnati, which means the first-year generalmanager can leave work without fear of being accosted for orchestrating theReds' controversial eight-player trade with the Nationals on July 13."That's good, because I'm getting hammered enough in letters andvoicemails," says Krivsky, who, with his team in a pennant race, dealt two26-year-old every-day players (rightfielder Austin Kearns and shortstop FelipeLopez) and a prospect for a pair of middle relievers (Bill Bray and GaryMajewski), a 36-year-old shortstop (Royce Clayton) and two minor leaguers.
Skewered by thenational media and Cincinnati fans--former Mets G.M. turned ESPN analyst StevePhillips called it "the worst trade of the last 10 years"--Krivskyremains steadfast in his belief that the deal was essential to get his clubinto the postseason. At week's end the Reds, who trailed by 1 1/2 games in theNL wild-card race at the time of the trade, had opened a one-game lead since."We were 9--20 going into the All-Star break with some bad late-inninglosses," says Krivsky, whose relievers ranked second to last in the leaguein ERA (5.16) in the first half of the season but had a 3.31 mark in 10 gamesafter the break. "We had to improve the bullpen. If we overpaid, weoverpaid."
A former Twinsassistant G.M. and longtime scout, the 52-year-old Krivsky had been widelypraised for two earlier moves: trading outfielder Wily Mo Pe√±a for righthandedstarter Bronson Arroyo (9--6, 2.92 ERA through Sunday) in March, then dealingfor second baseman Brandon Phillips (.292, eight homers, 49 RBIs) in April. Heneeded Bray and Majewski to be late-inning bridges to Eddie Guardado, who wasacquired from Seattle on July 6. Guardado, 35, got saves in his first fivechances with the Reds and had a 1.35 ERA.
A 2004first-round draft pick with a killer 90-mph slider, the 23-year-old Bray had a1.80 ERA after five innings pitched for his new club, and could be Cincinnati'scloser of the future. The 26-year-old Majewski, however, may have beenoverrated by Krivsky; he had allowed five runs in 4 1/3 innings, blown a leadand taken a loss since joining the Reds. "[Majewski] looks a littlefatigued, maybe the workload [86 innings in '05 and 59 2/3 this season] iscatching up to him," says an NL scout. "But Bray has been as good asadvertised; he has good poise, so they'll be able to count on him in the lateinnings."
At the same time,an NL executive says that Kearns and Lopez "were overvalued by most of thetrade's critics." After hitting .291 last year, Lopez was batting .262 atweek's end (including .211 with Washington). According to team sources the Redshad soured on Lopez because of his poor work ethic and lack of focus ondefense. Clayton, despite his fading range, is a defensive upgrade. As forKearns, who was hitting .270 with 17 homers and 51 RBIs, he's prone to injuryand strikeouts; and his numbers were inflated by playing in the hitter-friendlyGreat American Ball Park.
Their departuresfreed up more at bats for underused utilityman Ryan Freel and highly regardedprospect Chris Denorfia, as well as cash for 2007: Lopez and Kearns,arbitration eligible in the fall, are due big raises next year.
The trade isdefensible for another reason: The cost of setup men is rising as fast as gasprices. Last winter the Yankees signed Kyle Farnsworth for $17 million, theCardinals added Braden Looper for $13.5 million and the Cubs acquired Bob Howryand Scott Eyre for a combined $23 million. (Each reliever received a three-yeardeal.) As a result, says an NL scout, "teams are less willing now to dealthem away. [Bray and Majewski] might end up being the best two relievers movedthis season."
With its revampedbullpen Cincinnati at week's end had won seven of 10 games after the All-Starbreak. The Reds had the look of an improved team, but only one thing will quietKrivsky's critics and riled-up fans: their first postseason berth since1995.
Not the Answer In Atlanta
Since moving JohnSmoltz back to the rotation in 2004, the Braves have been searching for alights-out closer to stabilize a dreadful bullpen. After trading a Class Acatcher to the Indians for All-Star reliever Bob Wickman last week, Atlantastill needs one. Although the portly righty was 15 for 18 in saves for theIndians and had an AL-high 45 saves in 2005, he isn't going to be the saviorfor a staff that had a league-high 20 blown saves in 40 chances through Sunday.Wickman arrived in Atlanta just as he stopped being a ground ball pitcher (his1.03 grounder-to-fly-ball ratio is a career low); and he had struck out only 17hitters in 28 innings. "It's not a trade that suddenly makes Atlanta awild-card favorite," says an NL scout.
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Who would you take?
JON LESTER or ANIBAL SANCHEZ
Last November the Marlins made Lester (left), a21-year-old Double A lefty, their prime target in a deal that would send15-game winner Josh Beckett to the Red Sox. After Boston balked, Florida agreedto take Sanchez (right), a 21-year-old Double A righty, and three other minorleaguers. Since debuting in the majors last month, Lester (5--0, 3.04 ERA atweek's end) and Sanchez (3--0, 3.41) have thrived, and both had one-hit winslast week. Here's one NL executive's take: "Lester used to be a lot furtheralong because Sanchez struggled through injuries, but Sanchez looks strongfollowing Tommy John [surgery]. A confident kid who throws a mid-90s-mphfour-seamer and a deceptive changeup with great control, he's been better thanexpected. [But] Lester, a tall, lefty strikeout pitcher, has excellent commandand a fastball with filthy movement. He reminds me of Andy Pettitte."
THE VERDICT: Lester.
With Bray putting up a 1.80 ERA with the Reds, Krivsky (inset) had no reason toregret his gamble.
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