Wednesday, February 03, 1999

Vaughn era could be short or sweet


Slugger could be traded by midsummer if Reds don't compete

BY CHRIS HAFT
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        One way or another, the Reds' phones will be ringing off the hook this year.

        Obtaining slugger Greg Vaughn from the San Diego Padres Tuesday could make the Reds a serious postseason contender, prompting fans to call more frequently for game tickets.

        Or, if the team struggles, other clubs contending for a pennant will contact General Manager Jim Bowden fervently before the July 31 trading deadline, intent on grabbing Vaughn, left-hander Denny Neagle or any of the other talented stars Cincinnati cannot afford to keep.

        Reds management welcomes the risk of a midsummer housecleaning. Aware that the team lacked power, Bowden convinced Managing Executive John Allen that trading for Vaughn, who has exceeded 40 home runs and 110 RBI in two of the last three seasons, made perfect baseball sense.

        Cincinnati secured left fielder Vaughn and outfielder Mark Sweeney for outfielder Reggie Sanders, infielder Damian Jackson and minor-league pitcher Josh Harris.

        Suddenly the Reds, who needed everything to go right to mount a challenge in the National League Central Division, enter the season as a genuine team to watch.

        Besides Vaughn, who amassed 50 homers and 119 RBI to help the Padres win the NL title, they've added Neagle, who has won 52 games in the last three seasons, and Mike Cameron, who might be the speedy center fielder and leadoff hitter the team has long sought. Cincinnati also has helped its bench.

        Even shortstop Barry Larkin, Cincinnati's biggest star and harshest critic, agreed that acquiring Vaughn was a masterstroke and indicated that he'll end his request to be traded to a contending team.

        “In all this trade talk, I've only asked for a chance to be competitive,” Larkin said. “I think where we are right now, we're competitive.”

        Said Bowden: “There are a lot of good teams in this league and it's going to be a tough go.

        “I think this allows us to compete. I think the moves we've made have improved the team enough that we can compete. I'm not saying we can overtake Houston or Atlanta or Los Angeles. But when you look at the next set of clubs, I don't see why we can't compete on a daily basis with them.”

        And if the Reds are mediocre or worse when the trading deadline approaches, the GM of every contending team will have Bowden's phone number on his speed dial. Due to make $5.75 million in the last season of a three-year, $15 million contract, Vaughn would be a bargain for any team, particularly in midseason.

        “If we get to July 31 and it's not working out, well, maybe we might make another trade,” Bowden said. “Maybe it works out and we get to the wild card and we sign (Vaughn) to a long-term contract. Worst-case scenario, you get two first-round (draft) picks for him (as compensation if Vaughn stays all year with the Reds, then signs with another team as a free agent).”

        Said Vaughn: “I have some friends who said, "Don't unpack,' you know what I mean?”

        But even if Vaughn's stay in Cincinnati turns out to be just one season, or less, that's OK with Larkin: “Jim is very right. If it doesn't work out, we tried. I'm very thankful for that.”

        The Reds' hitters also ought to be thankful for Vaughn, a three-time All-Star who batted .272 last year while joining St. Louis' Mark McGwire (70), the Chicago Cubs' Sammy Sosa (66) and Seattle's Ken Griffey Jr. (56) as the only players to reach the 50-homer plateau. Vaughn, who turns 34 on July 3, should prevent younger Reds such as Aaron Boone, Sean Casey and Dmitri Young from trying too hard to produce.

        Vaughn, who underwent three shoulder operations earlier in his career but hasn't had one for three years, didn't take his output for granted.

        “It took everything I had, I'll tell you that,” he said of hitting 50 homers. “Staying focused and staying healthy, that's the main thing. If you stay healthy, you can do a lot of things. You're not fouling off pitches. You're not missing pitches. Every time they make a mistake you capitalize on it. It's an unbelievable thing to get in a groove like that.”

        Cincinnati has a nucleus of strong hitters: Larkin, whose .309 average last year pushed his lifetime figure to .300; Young, who hit .310 with 48 doubles in his first full major-league season; Casey, who is projected to exceed the .272 average he recorded last year; and Boone, whose late-season rush lifted his 1998 average to .282.

        But the Reds hit only 138 homers last year, 12th in the 16-team NL. Moreover, they sent Bret Boone, who socked a team-high 24 homers, to Atlanta last Nov. 11 for Neagle in a five-player trade.

        “Now we have a threat to take pressure off Dmitri, Casey, Boonie and those guys,” Reds manager Jack McKeon said. “Every time they come to bat, it's not the end of the world. Now when you look at our lineup, when we're down two or three runs, we have a chance. In the past, we had to scrape and scratch for runs. We didn't even have that one threat.”

        None of the Reds, even Larkin, was skilled enough to serve as the fulcrum of the offense. Vaughn is expected to fill that void as the cleanup hitter.

        “People don't realize what that one "four' hitter does to your team and how everything sets up after him,” Bowden said. “When you have Barry Larkin and Greg Vaughn in the middle of the lineup, the pressure comes off the Dmitri Youngs and Sean Caseys.”

       



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VAUGHN OF A NEW DAY

vaughn
GREG VAUGHN
• '98: .272, 50 HR, 119 RBI
Career stats


sweeney
MARK SWEENEY
• '98: .234, 2 HR, 15 RBI
Career stats

sanders
REGGIE SANDERS
• '98: .268, 14 HR, 59 RBI
Career stats

jackson
DAMIAN JACKSON
• '98: .262, 1 HR, 10 RBI

Trade coverage

Vaughn makes Reds contenders
Tell us what you think
Vaughn pleads: Let me keep my goatee
Infographic: New lineup
Reds hit homer with trade
Sullivan column
NL Central, look out
Larkin happy to stay now
Questions remain in outfield
Sanders glad to move on
Notebook

Reds page