Sunday, August 3, 2003

Reds trades a big step back

Cutting costs, losing more

Take a deep breath. The "July Massacre" at Great American Ball Park is over.

In a span of four days last week, Reds executives got rid of their manager, general manager, two coaches and four talented and dependable regular players.

As each day seemed to bring an even more outrageous deal, public opinion turned against the Reds. And every taxpayer who helped pay for the brand-new stadium has a right to be upset.

The least the Reds management could do is be honest with their fans and the city. Interim co-general managers Brad Kullman and Leland Maddox both spun the deals as being based on a goal to win in the future, not immediate financial concerns.

That's hard to accept. Of the eight players the Reds got in return, only two - pitchers Brandon Claussen and Aaron Harang - are considered top-of-the-line prospects. Meanwhile, the bottom line on all the deals was a $5.25 million salary savings for the team.

Trades, in and of themselves, are legitimate. The discouraging Reds' performance and poor record demanded a change in strategy. Sitting in fifth place in a six-team division, the Reds had to rebuild and prepare for another year. But instead of trading away high-priced talent for bargain-priced future stars, they gave up young, reasonably affordable players for marginal prospects.

Baseball guru Peter Gammons, an analyst for ESPN, summed it up: "They were making deals that had nothing to do with who they got. It was whoever had the most money."

Much of this financial strain might have been avoided if Ken Griffey Jr. had stayed healthy. Former General Manager Jim Bowden, fired Monday, told ESPN radio Thursday that he was close to a deal to send Griffey - and his huge salary - to the New York Yankees. If that had gone through, the Reds would have lost a superstar, but certainly could have avoided last week's salary dump.

Bowden also noted that the team addressed its most glaring need, young pitching. Seven new pitchers are now in the Reds system.

Some argue that if these players produce, it will help the team in the long run. But a few years ago, August 2003 was "the long run." A rebuilt and competitive team was supposed to coincide with the opening of the taxpayer-financed Great American Ball Park.

No amount of spin from the team can change this unfortunate fact: The Reds made major decisions last week based more on breaking even on the ledger than breaking even in the National League Central standings.

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