Tuesday, March 31, 1998
Reds' stunner: Bye-bye Burba
Starter traded for prized Indians prospect

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Now you see him, now ... Dave Burba,scheduled to be today's starter, was at the Reds workout Monday, but later found out he'd been traded to Cleveland.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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Jim Bowden says Reds fans will look back on Monday's trade that sent pitcher Dave Burba to Cleveland for first base prospect Sean Casey as they do the Joe Morgan trade.

The Morgan trade put the finishing touches on the Big Red Machine and led directly to two world championships.

If the Casey-Burba deal has anywhere near that kind of long-term effect, it's a great day for Reds fans. But the trade's immediate effect could be a lot of dark days.

The trade of Burba, who was to be today's Opening Day starter, means the Reds are looking toward the future at the cost of this season's results.

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  • ''Obviously for this year this is going to hurt us,'' Bowden said. ''It's tough to lose your Opening Day starter at this point. But we can't lose our vision of where we want to go.''

    That's younger and cheaper.

    Bowden said three factors went into the trade: A) payroll reduction; B) building toward the future; and C) Casey may be the best hitting prospect in all of baseball.

    While losing Burba's salary - $2.8 million this year and $3.2 million next - was the No. 1 factor, Bowden said he would make the trade even if finances had not played into it.

    ''There's only one player I'd stick my neck out this far for,'' Bowden said. ''The only better hitting prospect that I've seen is Chipper Jones.

    ''This kid has tremendous makeup. We expect him to be an impact player. He hasn't hit for as much power as we think he will. I'd compare him to Fred McGriff.''

    Sean Casey, 23, was the top average hitter in the Indians' organization last year, batting .380 between Double-A and Triple-A with 15 homers and 84 RBI.
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    Bowden had been talking to Cleveland General Manager John Hart about Burba all spring. But Bowden held out for Casey.

    ''We wanted quality, not quantity this time,'' Bowden said. ''We weren't going to make a deal unless it was for their best prospect. This is a guy we're convinced can be a star.''

    The Indians may have decided to go with the deal Monday because Dwight Gooden, their fourth starter, is experiencing tightness in his right shoulder and was placed on the disabled list shortly after Burba was acquired.

    As much as Bowden loves Casey's potential, it is potential. Casey, 23, has only played in 88 games above the Single-A level. He was the top average hitter in the Indians' organization last year, batting .380 between Double-A and Triple-A with 15 homers and 84 RBI.

    Casey will be in uniform today - he's done with the minors, Bowden says - but not in the lineup. Eduardo Perez will start at first base. ''I haven't had much time to think about it,'' Reds manager Jack McKeon said. ''Perez can play third base, outfield. But he's my first baseman (today).''

    McKeon said he will try to work Casey and the other young players into the lineup ''gradually.''

    The timing of the trade was stunning.

    ''This is the first time I've ever lost my Opening Day starter the day before Opening Day,'' McKeon said.

    The loss of Burba leaves the Reds with only one starter - Brett Tomko - with a winning career record.

    The net effect this year is David Weathers (18-27, 5.67 ERA for his career) goes into the rotation instead of Burba.

    ''I hate to lose Burba,'' McKeon said. ''I love the guy. He had a hell of a spring. I think he's going to have a great year.''

    Burba is a 31-year-old right-hander with a career 49-45 record and 4.26 ERA. He reworked his mechanics in the offseason and appeared to be developing into an effective starter. He was 2-1 with 2.13 ERA this spring.

    But Burba was one of the three high-priced players - along with Bret Boone and Reggie Sanders - who the Reds could trade to get their payroll in line with Managing Executive John Allen's budget.

    Bowden said that after signing all the contracts this season, the Reds were $2.5 million over budget.

    Losing Burba's $2.8 million salary gets it in range. Allen would not say what the budget was, but it's believed to be around $22 million. ''We're on budget,'' Allen said.

    That means no more salaries have to be unloaded. Allen said he doesn't think the deal will adversely affect the Reds' attendance. The team drew 1.8 million last year, its lowest in a non-strike year since 1986.

    ''I would hope not,'' he said. ''We've been pushing the young kids, who play hard . . . We're not the Pittsburgh Pirates or Montreal Expos. We still have Reggie Sanders, Barry Larkin and Bret Boone.'' Bowden would put Casey below Larkin but above Sanders and Boone and anyone else on the roster as a hitter - right now.

    ''We need another professional hitter in addition to Barry Larkin,'' Bowden said. '' . . . I would rate (Casey) second on our team as a hitter.''

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    Reds-Padres scouting report
    Notebook: Larkin almost ready