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By Jonah Keri
Special to Page 2

The e-mail came in from my buddy Rich about 4 p.m. Thursday.

"As a Reds fan, I have to ask: What the hell was that trade about? It has to be a joke, doesn't it? Krivsky fleeced by Jim Bowden? Say it ain't so."

Scenarios quickly flashed through my mind. All but out of the race, the Nats were known to be shopping Alfonso Soriano, their most expensive and most marketable player. What could GM Wayne Krivsky and the Reds possibly have given up for him? Austin Kearns and some B-level prospects? Or would they do an all-prospects deal for Soriano, something that would help them now but come back to haunt them later?

Then again, by his normally calm standards, Rich was practically frothing at the mouth over this deal. I mean, how bad could it be?

I plunged into the AP story:

"Worried their rickety bullpen was dragging them out of playoff contention, the Cincinnati Reds swung an eight-player trade ... "

Wow, eight-player trade!

" ... with the Washington Nationals on Thursday, getting relievers Gary Majewski and Bill Bray ... "

OK, Bray's a good, young lefty reliever, first-round draft pick. Majewski's a useful bullpen guy. Not great, but no biggie if they didn't give up much of value.

" ... but giving up two everyday players."

Wait, what? Which two players?

"The Reds parted with right fielder Austin Kearns and shortstop Felipe Lopez, hoping to shore up one of the majors' worst bullpens."

WHAAAAT???

Uh, who else did the Reds get? Turns out they picked up Daryl Thompson, a 20-year-old minor league pitcher with shoulder problems, and Brendan Harris, an uninspiring utility infielder -- for a team that has 32 guys just like him. The Nats also picked up Ryan Wagner, another first-round pick but one who has failed to live up to potential.

OK, that's seven players. The other guy the Reds got must have been Soriano, right?

"Besides the right-handed Majewski and lefty Bray, the Reds acquired shortstop Royce Clayton ... The 36-year-old Clayton will take over at shortstop for Lopez, who made his first All-Star team last year."

I think Rich needs a reply.

From: Jonah
To: Rich
Sent: Thursday, July 13, 2006 4:10 PM

This may be the worst trade I've ever seen.

If you want a detailed analysis of this train wreck of a trade, Keith Law does a great job breaking it down. Set aside scouting reports, prospect hounding and in-depth statistical analysis for a second, though.

On a broader scale, how can someone call a trade the worst ever, the best ever or anything else? A lot of trades end up looking terrible after the fact. The Tigers wanted to make a run at the title in 1987 and were prepared to give up a good, young talent to get a veteran starter who could make the difference for them. The trade they made, viewed from that angle, met that goal. Even in the post-analysis, they did well for themselves. Doyle Alexander went 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA in 11 starts for Detroit, and the Tigers went on to win the AL East. The player Detroit gave up was then prospect, now future Hall of Famer John Smoltz. But if a team in the race is willing to trade a top prospect for a win-now player, mazel tov. After all, flags fly forever.

The fairest way to evaluate a trade isn't years later -- it's right here, right now. What do we know about the players being traded? What's their real value? What's their perceived value? Using the information we have now, what are they likely to do in the future?

A couple of years ago, Page 2 ran through the worst trade deadline deals in MLB history. Page 2 also ran readers' responses on the worst deals. The deadline deal gained popularity as teams grappled with the new free-agent and arbitration structures, starting in the 1970s and accelerating from there. Page 2 rated Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio as the worst deadline deal ever, but it happened before the free-agent era -- and before my time.

Other, more recent trades that stood out on those lists:

July 31, 1997: The Mariners trade Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek to the Red Sox for Heathcliff Slocumb

And ...

July 31, 1997: The A's trade Mark McGwire to the Cardinals for T.J. Mathews, Eric Ludwick and Blake Stein

Ugly day in history for two AL West rivals. The M's chase the always dangerous, always overpriced Proven Closer, giving up two future All-Stars in the process. The A's trade a first-ballot Hall of Famer for three people who have never been in my kitchen.

Jan. 10, 1991: The Baltimore Orioles trade Curt Schilling, Pete Harnisch and Steve Finley for Glenn Davis

Somehow, the Orioles missed the oh-so-subtle warning signs, like Davis missing 69 games the year before he was traded. He spent the next three seasons mostly on the DL, and never came close to the power he showed in his 20s. Harnisch and Finley made three All-Star games between them, enjoying long, successful careers. That Schilling fella's pretty good too.

Aug. 31, 1990: The Red Sox trade Jeff Bagwell to the Astros for Larry Andersen

Andersen was terrific for Boston down the stretch that season, posting a 1.23 ERA in 22 innings. Of course, those might have been the most expensive 22 innings in Red Sox history.

All horrendous deals. But maybe if you squint really hard, you can see teams either going for it all now at the expense of a great prospect ... or three (Slocumb, Davis, Andersen deals) or hoping to strike gold with some prospects, only to whiff badly (McGwire).

The two trades not mentioned in the Page 2 surveys (one was too recent, one wasn't a deadline trade) that stood out most for me:

November 14, 2003: The Giants trade A.J. Pierzynski to the Twins for Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser

Nathan had a great arm, but he was also a failed starting pitcher with command issues. Liriano was a great prospect, but injuries were holding him back at the time. Some prospect mavens saw Bonser as the plum of the deal at the time. The trade looks like grand theft larceny now, with Nathan one of the top closers in baseball, Bonser a decent prospect on the cusp and Liriano only the best young pitcher in the game, with a shot at both the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young awards. But it wasn't quite as bad at the time.

July 30, 2004: The Mets trade Scott Kazmir and Jose Diaz to the Devil Rays for Victor Zambrano and Bartolome Fortunato

Brutal. Zambrano had decent stuff but terrible control problems. Fresh off pitching coach Rick Peterson's molding Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito into aces in Oakland, the Mets might have thought he could cure all Zambrano's ills and make him a star. That was a stretch. Meanwhile, Kazmir had some command issues of his own. But he also was widely regarded as one of the best young pitchers in the game. He made his major league debut less than a month later and is now on the verge of stardom. Injuries and ineffectiveness have washed out Zambrano's career. This trade looks brutal now. But it looked really bad then, too.

So was Thursday's Reds-Nats deal really the worst trade ever? Probably not. The Reds said they needed bullpen help. Bray and Majewski should contribute, even if neither one is Joe Nathan. The Reds said they needed defensive help. Lopez might have been the worst defensive shortstop in baseball, so anyone's an upgrade with the glove. The team also made room for top outfield prospect Chris Denorfia by dealing Kearns, and it shed some salary in the process. Kearns is injury-prone. Young pitching is hard to find.

Of course, that ignores how the Reds gave up the two best players in the trade; they didn't acquire any premium prospects to help them down the road; they're still in contention in the NL Central and not far off the wild-card lead, but they didn't pick up any difference makers to help them now; they gave up two of their best trading chits; and they might give serious playing time to Clayton. That's the same Royce Clayton whose reputation outstrips his actual ability -- he's well below average going by advanced defensive metrics. He also rarely gets on base, but he makes up for it with zero homers in 87 games played.

On the scale of worst trades I've ever seen, I rate The Royce Clayton Fiasco about fourth on my list -- not as bad as the Kazmir Krisis, but worse than Smoltz Under Siege.

"We paid a steep price," Reds general manager Krivsky said after the deal was announced. "I'm sure this will be a controversial trade. I know a lot of people will be leaving nasty messages on my voice mail, and I'll have some who think it's great."

Really? Who thinks this trade is great? Krivsky's cousin Ed? The local barbershop community, after seeing Majewski's head shot? The St. Louis Cardinals?

I couldn't find anyone who liked this trade for Cincinnati -- outside the Reds' organization. These were some of the other comments I read from friends in and around the game yesterday:

"I keep thinking I'm missing something. Is there a player to be named later, like perhaps the U.S. Treasury going to Cincy as part of the deal? Seriously, it doesn't seem possible."

"That's an awful deal ... unless Kearns is hurt or a [really nasty, baseless accusation deleted]."

"I swear to God I've read the deal four times now trying to get it."

"Man ... "

Sorry, Rich. Bengals' season starts Sept. 10.