In an attempt to build for the future while reshaping their club now, the Washington Nationals yesterday acquired two promising hitters in an eight-player deal with the Cincinnati Reds.
The Nationals added slugging outfielder Austin Kearns and former All-Star shortstop Felipe Lopez, both 26-year-olds with high ceilings, as well as minor league pitcher Ryan Wagner, 23, for relievers Gary Majewski and Bill Bray, shortstop Royce Clayton, minor leaguer infielder Brendan Harris and pitcher Daryl Thompson.
Nationals general manager Jim Bowden said he hated to part with the 26-year-old Majewski (3-2, 3.58 ERA) and 23-year-old left-hander Bray (1-1, 3.91), but the Reds desperately needed to bolster their bullpen and Kearns' and Lopez's upsides were too much to pass up.
"Kearns, Lopez and Wagner - none are older than 26," Bowden said. "We believe when you have a chance to trade middle relief for everyday players, you do it."
The Reds were four games behind the National League Central-leading St. Louis Cardinals and 1 1/2 out in the wild-card race heading into the second half. But their 5.16 bullpen ERA was tied with the Kansas City Royals as the second worst in baseball.
Bowden said he and Reds GM Wayne Krivsky started working on the deal "a long, long time ago," about the time Krivsky took over the Reds in February. No money was exchanged, but knowing he would be taking on two significant salaries (Kearns is making $1.85 million and Lopez $2.7 million), Bowden got approval from outgoing president Tony Tavares and new president Stan Kasten.
All three of the new Nationals have a history with Bowden, who was the Reds' GM from 1992 to 2003. He drafted Kearns and Wagner and traded for Lopez.
Kearns, the Reds' first-round pick in 1998, is hitting .274 with 16 homers and 50 RBIs. Bowden envisions him as the team's everyday right fielder - a spot currently held by Jose Guillen - and middle-of-the-order hitter.
Lopez, a first-round pick by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1998, was a 2005 All-Star and hit .268 with nine homers and 23 stolen bases in 85 games with the Reds this season. He'll be the Nationals starting shortstop and likely will bat second, Bowden said.
"I think our pitching staff will take a major hit; that's obvious," Bowden said. "Hopefully, our offense and defense will be better than they have been."
Wagner, a 2003 first-rounder who has struggled since his rookie year, will pitch at Triple-A New Orleans. Bowden said he "has the potential of being a quality setup man in the big leagues and we think he can get back to that."
The Nationals are expected to be one of the most active teams at the non-waiver trade deadline. Left fielder Alfonso Soriano is their biggest chip, but Bowden also could deal starting pitcher Livan Hernandez and Guillen, among others.