So this is what happens when Nationals general manager Jim Bowden's hands are untied -- and the tape is ripped from his lips.
Things get done. Players are moved. Blocks are busted.

"Amazing" is the only way to describe the Thursday deal engineered by Bowden. Well, one could also use "big," since eight players were involved, and "old-fashioned," since no money changed hands.

But you get the idea.

This deal with Cincinnati is one Bowden could not have made a year ago.

He still needed the go-ahead from more club presidents than is the norm, but two is better than 29, which would have been his problem under MLB's expiring stewardship.

"It was approved by [outgoing club president] Tony Tavares and by [incoming club president] Stan Kasten," said Bowden, adding that the move was also rubber-stamped by the incoming Lerner-family ownership.

And it would have been tough to enter into a transaction with people who don't talk to you. The former Reds ownership group -- the one Bowden had served as GM for -- had explicitly forbade its front office from dealing with him.

But Wayne Krivsky, who took over as the Reds' GM a week before Spring Training opened, had no such orders from Robert Castellini, the Cincinnati native who assumed control of the club in January.

"The first day Krivsky got there, he called to say they lifted the embargo," Bowden recalled. "He said, 'I hope you and I can deal.'"

The Reds' old owners had also barred Bowden from visiting the home clubhouse in Great American Ball Park, which deprived him from mingling with his former players.

So he partly solved that on Thursday, having Austin Kearns and Ryan Wagner, a couple guys he had drafted, and Felipe Lopez, whom he had acquired in a Dec. 15, 2002, deal, come mingle with him in the capital.

The Nationals general manager acquired two everyday players -- two good everyday players, with track records and high ceilings -- for four role players and a prospect.

Bowden looked around for a trade partner desperate enough for what he offered to pay a premium price.

And that's the genius of this little transaction. The Nationals had a pair of young arms in their overworked bullpen, but who knows what Gary Majewski and Bill Bray could bring on the open market? But the closed market of a relief-desperate team was an entirely different matter.

There, they could bring Kearns and Lopez. Two 26-year-olds, one with power, another with a solid glove and speed, both with towering upsides.

"Like Ryan Zimmerman," said Bowden, invoking the Nats' 21-year-old third baseman, "these are guys who you can build a core around. They give us a real good, young nucleus of players in their mid-20s."

Kearns, in right field, and Lopez, at short, will both be in the lineup on Friday night as the Nationals begin second-half play with the opener of a weekend series in Pittsburgh.

complete coverage >Missing from Frank Robinson's bullpen, however, will be two of its most reliable components. Majewski (3.58 ERA in 46 appearances) and the left-handed Bray (3.91 ERA) have been ably helping get the ball to closer Chad Cordero.
As difficult a time as he had with parting with two productive arms, Bowden said, "when you can trade middle relievers for everyday players, that's helpful."

"Pitchers," he added, "are a bigger injury-risk than everyday players. So, although it was hard to trade them, we acquired the kind of players who are not the type you can get on the free-agent market."

No argument from his Cincinnati counterpart. Krivsky knows he gave up a lot to bolster his own team's weakness. His uneasiness should elate Nationals fans.

"There are probably some nasty messages already on my voice mail," Krivsky said at the Cincinnati press conference announcing the deal. "Cincinnati leads the nation in polls. There's probably something on the crawler now -- 'Is this good or bad?'"

One of several ironies here, of course, is the Reds looking for bullpen salvation in a place that had suffered bullpen damnation. In fact, the only one in Washington who has yet to take a fall for the Nats' disappointing showing is John Wetteland, the former bullpen coach.

Robinson dismissed Wetteland a few weeks ago, essentially for "corrupting" his relievers. Majewski and Bray must've been two who couldn't be influenced, because Krivsky loves them.

He proved it by the price he paid, although his return also includes infielders Royce Clayton and Brendan Harris and pitching prospect Daryl Thompson.

"It's difficult to get quality pitchers for the back end of the game," Krivsky said. "This speaks to the high price out there."

"It was difficult to trade two of the best young relievers in this league," said Bowden, echoing Krivsky's sentiments.

So the two certainly agreed on the principle that receiving calls for giving.

What they couldn't seem to agree on was how long it took to build this eight-man deal.

"We spent weeks on this transaction. [We] must've exchanged nine, 10 e-mails a day," Bowden said.

Said Krivsky a few hundred miles away: "Jim and I just started talking on Friday. [It] started out as one-for-one, then Jim and I went back and forth all over the place."

Bowden had a hole card. As he said, "[The Reds] weren't going to win if they didn't fix the bullpen." And he played it all in.