Wednesday, December 06, 2000

Reds deny Williamson trade rumors

By Chris Haft
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Despite evidence to the contrary, Reds general manager Jim Bowden said Tuesday he's not trying to trade right-hander Scott Williamson.

        On the surface, the frequent rumors involving Williamson make little sense. Given the departures of veteran starters Steve Parris and Ron Villone in offseason trades, Cincinnati needs more pitching, not less. And Williamson fits within the budget of the cash-poor Reds. He won't be eligible for salary arbitration until after next season, meaning he's likely to receive only a token raise from his 2000 wage of $300,000.

        “Scott's not a player we're looking to move,” Bowden said, as he prepared for Friday's opening of the winter meetings in Dallas. “Scott throws a 98 mph fastball, a 92 mph split-finger and an 88 mph breaking ball. He and Pete Harnisch are our first two starters right now.”

        But the Reds' stated desire to keep Williamson hasn't halted speculation about the 1999 All-Star and National League Rookie of the Year, who nearly went to Oakland in a four-team trade at the July 31 trading deadline.

        First, Williamson was bound for Philadelphia in exchange for first baseman-outfielder Travis Lee. Then he was going to Oakland for outfielder Ben Grieve. Toronto inquired about Williamson before sending the Reds two minor-league pitchers for Parris. The latest gossip had Cleveland obtaining Williamson for slugging but strikeout-prone third baseman Russell Branyan.

        Though Bowden declined comment on the rumors, baseball sources confirmed that the A's and Reds indeed forged a Williamson-for-Grieve swap. But Grieve's salary, modest by today's standards, was too steep for Cincinnati's upper management. He'll earn $2.5 million next year and considerably more in 2002-03 as part of a four-year, $13.5 million package. Also, sources said the deal wouldn't be triggered unless Cincinnati could obtain right-hander Kevin Millwood from Atlanta.

        All this talk confounded Bowden, who reiterated that the Reds have added eight pitchers and only two position players in their last five trades dating to the Aug.31 Dante Bichette deal with Boston.

        The question remains: Why would Cincinnati want to trade Williamson under any circumstances? Two theories exist:

        • His maximum-effort pitching style has doomed him to a career-ending arm injury. Health concerns have dogged Williamson since he had tendinitis in his shoulder as a rookie.

        But his agent, Brian Peters, said that was the only arm ailment to have stricken the 24-year-old. The injuries that shelved Williamson this year were back and toe maladies.

        “He has absolutely no problems physically,” Bowden said. “He's completely healthy.”

        Said one scout of Williamson: “I see a violent delivery, which is a red flag for potential difficulties. But he has a great arm and great stuff. Sometimes you have to look deeper and see if (the motion) puts as much strain on the elbow and shoulder as it appears it does.”

        • The Reds already might be wary of what Williamson will command in arbitration after next season. Should Williamson thrive, he could seek $3 million or even $4 million.

        “Arguably, Scott's statistics to date, both as a reliever and a starter, rival some of the best in the game,” Peters said of his client, who's 17-15 with a 2.89 ERA and 243 strikeouts in 205 career innings.

        Harnisch, the staff leader, will make $3.75 million next year before becoming eligible for free agency. Should he leave, the Reds might have no choice but to try to retain Williamson.


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