Buster Olney Blog

Krivsky's deals give Reds a chanceposted: Monday, July 17, 2006  |  Feedback  |  Print Entry

I called Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky the other day to talk about Cincinnati's trade with Washington, and I really didn't mean anything negative when I referred to Bill Bray and Gary Majewski as middle relievers. Honest, I didn't.
To me, Mike Timlin is a middle reliever, and so were Jeff Nelson, Mike Stanton and Ramiro Mendoza on the championship Yankees; underrated Padres pitcher Scott Linebrink is a middle reliever, and the overpowering Joel Zumaya is a middle reliever.

Krivsky thinks the phrase "middle reliever" is inexact, with some negative connotations. "It depends on what vernacular you use," he said.

His vernacular is more precise. For Krivsky, there are closers and there are middle guys and there are long guys, and there are guys with the ability to ferry a lead to the closer. He says Majewski and Bray fit the last description, and in fact, before he made the trade with Washington, he asked his scouts a related question about each: "Is this a guy who can handle a pressure spot in the seventh or eighth inning?" What he was told was, yes, they are.

Many general managers and scouts and talent evaluators thought that Krivsky made a poor trade last week. "I don't get it at all," said one veteran executive.

They think he paid too much in giving up outfielder Austin Kearns and shortstop Felipe Lopez. I disagreed, even before dialing up Wayne and having the chat about bullpen vernacular.

Here's why I think the move could turn out fine for Cincinnati -- and why, in the end, Krivsky's deal has a chance to look smart: The value of middle relievers (or set-up men, or whatever you want to call them) is increasing, like oil stock.

Just about every contender is looking for bullpen help these days, with GMs and scouts reporting that there's virtually nothing out there, unless you want to take a shot at a Roberto Hernandez. Well, Krivsky got the bullpen help he wanted and needed. "I'm scrambling to find the best pitching available," he said.

Two weeks ago, the Reds had a bullpen they could not win with, and Krivsky could have been conservative and played it safe, and eventually the Cincinnati relief corps would've torpedoed the team's chances for playing in the postseason.

But he made a deal and gambled on Eddie Guardado, hoping that Everyday Eddie would benefit from the adrenaline of being in a new situation with a new challenge. Then he went out and got two quality arms in Bray and Majewski. Cincinnati may or may not make the playoffs, in the end, but the Reds won't be taken down by their vastly improved bullpen.

Kearns and Lopez are young and talented, both 26 years old, and both could turn out fine. But the Reds couldn't make the playoffs with the team they had, and now they can. And if you want a set-up man, or a middle reliever, you have to pay -- a trend that gained momentum in the offseason when, for the first time, more money was spent on relievers than on starting pitching. Kyle Farnsworth got $17 million to be the Yankees' set-up man, the Red Sox spent decent cash on Julian Tavarez and Rudy Seanez and got the best bargain in baseball with their signing of Timlin, and the Cubs paid big cash for Bobby Howry and Scott Eyre.

The Mets' trade for Duaner Sanchez looked odd at the time it was made -- a swap of a starting pitcher for a middle reliever -- but it might turn out to be the best move of the offseason, this side of Krivsky's Bronson Arroyo-Wily Mo Pena trade.

The volatility of middle relievers is well-established. Just consider the recent rise and fall of Cliff Politte of the White Sox as perhaps the best example. It may turn out that Bray and Majewski don't an especially long shelf life, that Kearns and Lopez last longer as productive players.

But you need solid middle relief to win. The Indians, devastated by the departure of Howry, will tell you that. So will the Yankees, who haven't been able to recreate the deep bullpens of their dynasty years, the biggest reason they haven't won a World Series in nearly six years.

More than a dozen teams will be fighting over the scraps of the middle-relief trade market in the next 14 days, but Krivsky will not. He got his guys, whether you want to call them quality set-up men, as Krivsky did, or middle relievers, as Washington general manager Jim Bowden referred to them after the trade was completed.

Krivsky now has a bullpen good enough to contend. The Reds have a chance to make the playoffs, and if they get there, it'll be because he was willing to pay a high price for something he had to have.

The Reds keep on winning, and the bullpen has looked solid.

Krivsky was on Jim Rome's radio show as well and pretty much admitted that he probably paid too much but that he felt it was for the best.  Romey backed him up after the interview and said Krivsky was courageous.

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