Sunday, July 11, 2004

Reds insider: Best move may be none

Club shouldn't trade away chance to make wild-card run

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As the trading deadline approaches, teams usually are viewed as buyers or sellers. Standing pat rarely is considered an option.

But in the Reds' case, you can make an argument it's the best strategy.

The Reds probably are more than a player or two from competing with the St. Louis Cardinals or making a serious run in the playoffs.

Baseball logic says when that's the case, you blow things up and build for the future. That's basically what the Reds did last year. They alienated the fans in doing so, but they got some decent prospects in the process.

They could do the same this year. Paul Wilson, Cory Lidle, Juan Castro or Danny Graves would bring prospects on the trade market.

But if the Reds don't gut the team, there's a chance they can hang in the wild-card race for the balance of the summer. That would make Great American Ball Park a much more pleasant place to be. It also would reward all the fans who have bought tickets so far.

You have to remember the Reds probably are going to have Austin Kearns and John Vander Wal for August and September. That makes the offense a lot better. And Brandon Claussen is coming around, which could make the starting pitching a lot better.

That's the argument for standing pat and hoping the club takes off. The Reds, after all, are one eight-out-of-10 streak from moving into first place in the wild-card race.

If the Reds trade players - particularly starters such as Wilson and Lidle - the club almost certainly will sink as it did in 2003. So you'd have another long, ugly summer at Great American.

It goes against conventional wisdom to keep free agents-to-be Lidle, Wilson and Castro if you don't have a chance to go to the playoffs and you're not going to re-sign them. That's why the Reds moved Jose Guillen last year. Guillen would have made the club better for the rest of the year, but the Reds got three prospects for him, including Aaron Harang, who has been an effective starter this year.

So what will the Reds do?

I think they remain in the wait-and-see mode. But they know that because they lack prospects, they won't be a factor for the best players on the trading block.

My guess is they are much more likely to be sellers than buyers, because the club continues to focus on the future.

But if you're always keep building for the future, the future never comes.

ON CLAUSSEN: Reds general manager Dan O'Brien was there to see left-hander Claussen's latest gem - 6 2/3 innings, no runs, 12 strikeouts - Wednesday for Louisville.

"He had pinpoint command," O'Brien said.

Claussen is 5-1 with a 2.39 ERA in his last six starts. It would be easy to assume he'll be in the rotation after the All-Star break.

But O'Brien wouldn't commit to that.

"He's continued to make progress," O'Brien said. "If he continues at his current pace, he's getting very close."

Putting Claussen, the top prospect obtained in last summer's flurry of trades, in the rotation and putting Jesus Sanchez in the bullpen seems to make a lot of sense.

MORE MINORS: The most intriguing of the Reds' minor-league pitchers is Richie Gardner.

If he can make the jump seamlessly to Double-A, he could be in the big leagues some time next year.

Gardner, 22, a right-hander, was 8-2 with a 2.50 ERA for Potomac. He earned the win in his Chattanooga debut with six innings of two-hit ball.

He was the sixth pick in the 2003 draft but didn't sign until September because the Reds didn't have the money for his $160,000 bonus until after all the trades.

MUTE BUTTON: The Home Run Derby figures to be great this year with Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and Jim Thome.

The problem is it's tough to watch on ESPN with Chris Berman's constant prattle, including a few dozen of those oh-so-fresh "back, back, backs."

My advice: Hit mute.

Reds All-Star statistics

• Johnny Bench hit .370 (10-for-27) in 10 games with three homers and six RBI.

• Mario Soto started the 1983 game and was the loser but didn't allow an earned run over six innings of three games.

• In four games, Ted Kluszewski was 7-for-14 with four runs, four RBI, two doubles and a home run.

• Paul Derringer started two games, won one and allowed only one run in eight innings of four games.

• Johnny Vander Meer started and won the 1938 game at Crosley Field and didn't allow an earned run in 8 2/3 innings. That was the season he pitched back-to-back no-hitters.

• Bucky Walters started the 1944 game and allowed only two earned runs in nine innings in five games.



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