Kearns, Lopez Bring Returns After Trade
Monday, May 21, 2007
Last year at this time, Austin Kearns was an outfielder who had spent his entire career with the Cincinnati Reds, Felipe Lopez was hitting better than .300 and playing shortstop, and the pair seemed to be pieces the Reds would use the rest of the season and well into the future.
At that same point, Gary Majewski was working his way through shoulder tendinitis and finding the strength in his right arm to throw his fastball in the mid-90s, and Bill Bray was at Class AAA New Orleans, still awaiting the call to begin his major league career with the Washington Nationals.
In the ensuing year, much has transpired to reshape both of those franchises, teams that begin a four-game series tonight in Cincinnati. When the Nationals roll out their lineup, Kearns -- who grew up down Interstate 75 in Lexington, Ky. -- will almost certainly be in right field, sitting in the visiting dugout at Great American Ball Park for the first time in his career. Lopez likely will lead off and play second base just two seasons after being an all-star shortstop for the Reds. And neither Majewski nor Bray, the key elements Washington gave up in its trade with Cincinnati last July, will pitch for the Reds.
"Obviously, for the future of this franchise," said Nationals closer Chad Cordero, one of Majewski's best friends, "we made a really good trade."
The eight-player deal on the final day of the all-star break fundamentally overhauled both teams, and in some ways, it defines them as they prepare their first meeting since it occurred. It is an example, Nationals President Stan Kasten said, of the flexibility of the club's overall plan for building a consistent winner, a plan that, as Bowden says repeatedly, is built on "pitching, pitching, pitching."
Yet here was a trade in which the key elements were Nationals pitchers going elsewhere, with position players coming on board.
"We have to be flexible," Kasten said. "What we look for is opportunity, and that was an opportunity."
The deal is tinged, too, with controversy, because within the last two weeks the Reds filed a grievance with Major League Baseball, suspicious that the Nationals knew Majewski was hurt when they traded him but did not disclose that to the Reds. Baseball officials have begun an investigation, and if they find the Nationals knowingly did something untoward, they could dole out some sort of punishment -- perhaps even making Washington send another player to Cincinnati.
Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden -- who has his own deep ties to Cincinnati, having served as the general manager there for a decade -- refused to comment on both the grievance specifically and the trade in general this weekend. In the past, however, he has maintained that the Nationals gave the Reds all the information they requested, and has pointed out that the fact that Majewski had been treated for tendinitis was reported in the media in May.
Now, Majewski is in the minors, dealing with a shoulder that still hasn't strengthened enough to get his old life on his fastball, the pitch that carried him to a 2.93 ERA in 79 appearances for the 2005 Nationals. Worse, he is working through a family tragedy. His 19-year-old sister was killed two weeks ago in an accident involving an all-terrain vehicle, and he left Class AAA Louisville for nearly two weeks. He is now 1-1 with a 5.54 ERA in 13 appearances for the Bats, all while trying to work his way back to the majors and cope with a tragedy.
"It didn't hit him for about a week," Cordero said. "It's been really hard for him, just to go through an injury and then have the family situation. He wants to be in the big leagues. He wants to have success like he's had. But anytime you have a problem with your arm, it's tough -- especially when you don't quite know what it is."
Bray, meanwhile, appeared to be the key player the Reds -- whose bullpen was reeling at the time of the trade -- got in return. A hard-throwing lefty and former first-round pick, Bray was promoted to the Nationals in June, then posted a 4.23 ERA with two saves in 29 appearances for the Reds last year. But he has had a broken left index finger since spring training, and only yesterday was assigned to a rehabilitation stint at Class A Sarasota.