Friday, April 23, 2004
Just why was Reitsma traded?
Paul Daugherty

Lately, the Reds bullpen has been whacked like a piņata. Nothing sags a young team's shoulders like relief pitchers bearing gasoline cans. A little Chris Reitsma would've been good. Except Reitsma was in the other dugout.

You can accept the company line, as delivered by General Manager Dan O'Brien: The Reds traded their most valuable, versatile pitcher of a year ago because they got two potential starting pitchers in return. Jung Keun Bong is 23. Bubba Nelson is 22. They're both in Triple A.

"If you're going to get competitive, it's got to start with starting pitching. The opportunity to get two very young, potential starting pitchers was something we could not walk away from," O'Brien said Thursday.

Or you can narrow your eyes, and ponder this:

If your plan is to build from within with good young, cheap pitching, why do you trade your best young, cheap pitcher?

Reitsma is 26 years old, throws 95 miles an hour and, in the opinion of Danny Graves "has the best changeup in the game." Last year Reitsma had nine wins and 12 saves while doing everything for the Reds' sad pitching staff but perform Tommy John surgery. Did we mention he lost his arbitration case, and is making just $950,000?

Reitsma would seem to be the answer to a small-market prayer.

Next year, if he pitches to expectations, Reitsma stands to make a few million dollars. Is that a reason the Reds dealt him? It's an important question. It gives you a peek at who the Reds intend to be in the next several years.

If you keep shedding cheap, young players for cheaper, younger models, all you're doing is spinning on baseball's Third World hamster wheel. You can only trade young pitching for younger pitching so long. Then everybody figures out where you're going: You're going to Pittsburgh. You're in a Montreal state of mind.

It's a notion O'Brien disputes. "Our vision isn't just for one year. With time and patience, Ryan Wagner can become as proficient as Chris Reitsma," he said. OK. But when and if Ryan Wagner does, will he be dealt for the next Ryan Wagner?

"They want good, young starting pitching," said Reitsma, now an Atlanta Brave. "They saw me in the long run as a set-up guy, someone they could replace with a veteran like Todd Jones or young guys like (John) Riedling and Wagner."

O'Brien said ownership will give him the money he needs to build properly. "We're a work in progress," he said. O'Brien said some of the millions cut from this year's payroll have been shifted to player development. He didn't say how many millions. That's the kind of information that might keep fans coming to the park, even if the team plunges in the standings.

If there is a plan, and the money to drive it, fans will adopt some patience. If there isn't, fans will adopt the Bengals.

Meanwhile, Dave Miley deals with a young bullpen with a big hole where Reitsma used to be. Wagner and Phil Norton are training on the job. It shows. "You've got to show some confidence, keep putting them out there. It's a learning process," the manager said.

"Another good arm we could have had," Danny Graves said of Reitsma. "Now, maybe people are saying, where's Reitsma? But we're going to come out of our struggles. You have to spend money to win. That's baseball. And that's why I'm not a general manager."

The Reds beat Atlanta 5-3 Thursday, in a rain-reduced five innings. They didn't need the bullpen. That was fortunate.