Nats land Kearns, Lopez from Reds
Washington parts with Majewski, Clayton, three others
PITTSBURGH -- Looking to get better in the long term, the Nationals began what could be an eventful run to the July 31 trade deadline with an eight-player deal on Thursday, acquiring outfielder Austin Kearns, shortstop Felipe Lopez and right-hander Ryan Wagner from the Reds in exchange for pitchers Gary Majewski, Bill Bray and Daryl Thompson, infielders Brendan Harris and Royce Clayton.
Kearns, Lopez and Wagner are players who were either drafted or acquired in a trade by Nationals general manager Jim Bowden when he was with the Reds. Kearns and Lopez are expected to join the club on Friday at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, while Wagner will be optioned to Triple-A New Orleans.
Kearns will make $1.85 million, while Lopez will earn $2.7 million. Both players are arbitration eligible.
"This trade was not made for today or tomorrow," Bowden said. "It was made for the long run. The pieces don't fit perfectly in trying to improve [the 2006 Nationals]. The goal is to build a team in the long run that's going to win for a long time. We feel this deal helps us in that direction."
While he has stressed that the organization needs to have a plethora of pitchers, incoming president Stan Kasten approved the deal and didn't want Bowden to pass up a good opportunity.
"As much as we will focus on pitching and draft picks, the main thing we will look upon are opportunities," Kasten said. "And here we had an opportunity to add pieces that could be part of a winning franchise, and we will always take advantage of such opportunities."
Bowden had been speaking to Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky since Cincinnati lifted the ban from dealing with Bowden before the 2006 season started. After Bowden joined the Nationals in Nov. 2004, one of his top priorities was to try to land Kearns and outfielders Adam Dunn and Wily Mo Pena. Under the old ownership, then-GM Dan O'Brien was told not to deal with Bowden.
Kearns, who was drafted by Bowden in the first round of the 1998 First-Year Player Draft, is having his best season, hitting .274 with 16 home runs and 50 RBIs in 87 games for Cincinnati. For the short term, Kearns is expected to play center field for the Nationals, but will eventually move to right.
"It's a business, man," Kearns said. "You just turn the page and you start something new. So I enjoyed it here, and I look forward to my time in Washington."
Kearns has had an up and down career thus far. During his rookie year in 2001, Kearns hit .315 with 13 home runs and 56 RBIs in 107 games for the Reds and finished third in National League Rookie of the Year balloting. But most of his career has been riddled with injuries. He was on the disabled list four years in a row from 2001-04 because of shoulder, forearm and thumb problems and was sent down briefly last season after getting off to a poor start.
The arrival of Kearns means that right fielder Jose Guillen will be dealt before the trade deadline, according to a source. The Nationals have been looking to trade Guillen for weeks. He was looking to get a five-year, $50 million deal, but the Nationals have no intentions of giving him that kind of money.
Guillen has been hurt most of this season, and is hitting .211 with nine home runs and 34 RBIs. Privately, the Nationals' think tank believes that they can get something in return for Guillen despite his struggles.
Bowden traded for Lopez, 26, as part of a four-team deal on Dec. 15, 2002. Lopez came from the Blue Jays and established himself as one of the best shortstops in the National League. His best season was in 2005, when he hit .291 with 23 home runs and 85 RBIs.
Lopez was hitting .268 with nine home runs, 30 RBIs and a career-high 23 stolen bases in 85 games for the Reds this season. Bowden said Lopez is expected to bat second for the Nationals and add more speed to the lineup. He is currently fourth in the National League in steals.
"That element that he has gives us is two guys at the top of the lineup than can run, which should produce more fastballs for our guys hitting three, four and five," Bowden said. "We see Alfonso Soriano at No. 1 and Lopez two, and they are both capable of stealing bases. If they both get on, they might double steal."
Lopez said he had a feeling for weeks he would be traded. But figured he would be dealt for Alfonso Soriano.
"I'm going back to playing for Jim Bowden," Lopez said. "He has been great to me from the start. I see a lot of potential over there in Washington. I was not surprised by the trade. The Reds didn't have much to trade, so I figured me and Austin were the guys."
The acquisition of Lopez could mean that shortstop Cristian Guzman's days with the Nationals could be over. Guzman, who is out for the season because of a shoulder injury, has two years remaining on his $16.8 million contract. If Washington decides to trade Guzman, it most likely will have to eat a portion of the contract.
Another scenario is to trade Jose Vidro and switch Lopez to second base for the 2007 season. Lopez has played the position for the Blue Jays and Reds.
Wagner, 23, was Cincinnati's first-round selection (14th overall) in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft. The University of Houston alumnus later became the first player from the 2003 draft to appear in the big leagues, and became the first top pick in Reds' history to make his big-league debut during the season in which he was drafted.
But the right-hander has struggled mightily since then, and Bowden hopes that Triple-A New Orleans coach Steve McCatty can straighten him out.
"Unfortunately, [the Reds] made a lot of mechanical changes on him over the years, and we are hoping to get him back to where he was," Bowden said.
With an open roster spot following the trade, the Nationals are expected to purchase the contract of right-hander Roy Corcoran from New Orleans. Corcoran, 26, is currently 2-3 with seven saves and a 2.45 ERA in 16 games this season.
As for Clayton, 36, he was not in the Nationals' long-term plans. He was one of the six players the Nationals were going to release in late May because his below average performance with the bat and glove, but team president Tony Tavares put a stop to it for financial reasons. Clayton, however, picked it up a couple of notches after manager Frank Robinson put him up near the top of the order.
There was a feeling that Majewski, Bray and Harris would be part of the long-term plan. But Bowden felt it was a no-brainer to trade them for everyday players.
"When you have a chance to trade a middle reliever for an everyday player, that's helpful. Over the long run, when you look at people's careers, pitchers are more of a risk as far as injuries than everyday players," Bowden said. "It was difficult to trade Majewski and Bray. We feel they are two of the best young relievers in the league. We didn't want to trade them, but in order to acquire players of the caliber of Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez, you are going to have to give up a lot."
Last year, Majewski joined Chad Cordero, Luis Ayala and Hector Carrasco as one of the best relief corps in baseball. Majewski posted a 2.93 ERA in 79 games, but, this season, he was often hit hard and walked too many batters.
Some members of the organization felt that he was negatively influenced by then-bullpen coach John Wetteland, who was accused of changing Majewski's personality, a charge that Majewski denied. It appeared to some that Majewski cared more about shooting firecrackers and pulling pranks than winning ballgames.
Bray was considered the closer of the future. He was called up this season and appeared in 19 games and had a 3.91 ERA.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.