It's Not Adam Dunn's Fault

With all the whining that's gone on the past week on the Reds blogosphere, on the call-in shows, and in the newspapers, you'd think that if the Reds could just get rid of Adam Dunn, they'd be sailing into the World Series.

Sure Dunn hasn't been very productive the last month, but I suspect he's got some sort of a minor injury. His throwing arm, which even though not particularly strong, normally is accurate, however lately his throws have been far, sometimes extremely far, offline. He's also not getting good swings at the ball, and an injury to his right shoulder or elbow could explain his poor throws and his sometimes anemic swings.

But enough about Dunn. Even with a .240 batting average, he's still getting on base regularly, which means he's still helping the team.

(more below ...)

The last couple of days, Reds radio voice Marty Brennaman has been talking considerably about the reasons for the Reds collapse, and what the club might do in the offseason to make the club more competitive. During Monday's series opener in Houston, Brennaman said he thought the Reds would trade Dunn over the winter. Marc Lancaster of the Cincinnati Post, normally a consistent voice of reason among the local writers, countered and said he didn't think there was any way Cincinnati would trade its only true slugger.

But then Lancaster said something odd. He went on to say that the Reds needed to get more guys who could "manufacture runs." I'm assuming he meant more guys like Ryan Freel, speedy white guys who "hustle" and play the game "the right way," whatever that means. Guys who hit .300 but don't draw walks (which Freel does do, by the way) and don't hit for extra bases. Guys like Norris Hopper, apparently, because Lancaster said that was one of the big questions the writers asked Narron during their pregame meeting. "Will Norris Hopper make the 2007 roster out of spring training?"

Don't misinterpret anything, please. I like Freel, and he's certainly proved me wrong about his ability and his value in the past couple of seasons. But you can't win division titles and make postseason appearances with a lineup full of players like him, or worse, overrated guys like Juan Pierre. His lack of plate discipline is a big part of the problem the Cubs have scoring runs.

No, the Reds season turned long before Dunn slumped, or Ken Griffey, Jr., got hurt (again), or before Narron decided to run a sore-armed pitcher out to the mound, or before Chris Michalek, Jason Johnson and Sun-Woo Kim began to pitch meaningful innings. Injuries to Elizardo Ramirez and Brandon Claussen, which resulted in less than desirable starting pitchers taking the hill, certainly hurt, but they weren't the fatal blow.

It should be no great surprise that what ultimately did the Reds in was GM Wayne Krivsky's ill-fated trade of Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez to Washington for a bunch of relief pitchers who A) didn't work out, and B) weren't all that good to begin with.

Krivsky pulled the trigger on the deal because the Reds limped into the All-Star break by losing eight of nine games. The bullpen, which wasn't all that good to begin with, was really struggling, and something had to be done. But there were a lot of other things Krivsky could have done besides trade away two key offensive components.

The Reds stood 45-44 after losing to Atlanta on July 9, their last game before the All-Star break. But they were third in the league in runs, behind the Mets and Dodgers, and led the league in home runs. Since then, the Reds have dropped to fifth in the league in homers, and are 13th in the league in runs scored.

Krivsky shouldn't have made the trade at all. Sure the Reds were struggling, but it was their first real challenge of the season, and more importantly, Krivsky should have realized that all teams, even the playoff contenders, go through rough stretches.

The White Sox lost 10 of 12 games immediately following the All-Star break, but Kenny Williams didn't trade Jermaine Dye and Joe Crede for Michael Wuertz and Alan Embree. And the White Sox certainly weren't alone among this year's good teams. The Dodgers lost 13 of 14 after the All-Star break, Oakland lost 10 of 11 in May, the Phillies started the season 1-6, lost 9 of 11 in May and went 6-20 from June 8 to July 7. The Marlins were 15-33 on May 28, and also played poorly before the All-Star break, losing 7 of 10. San Diego lost 7 of 9 after the break, the Twins lost 10 of 14 in April and early May, and lost another five in a row (to division rivals Detroit and Chicago) in mid-may to stand 17-24 at the time.

St. Louis, which is going to win the NL Central again, lost eight straight at the end of July and the start of August.Detroit, still with the second best record in the American League, went 10-22 in August and early September, and only recently started playing better. The Yankees, who have the best record in the AL, lost 8 of 11 in June, and the Mets, easily the best team in the National League, lost 6 of 7 and 7 of 9 in late June and early July.

Of all those teams, only the Reds and Phillies traded away significant players, and you have to think that the Phillies would be in much better shape if they had Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle back.

Going back further in Reds history, the 1990 club, which went wire-to-wire, lost 8 of 9 in June, and lost 8 in a row and 11 of 13 in late July and early August. Even the '76 Reds, easily the best team in baseball that year, lost 8 of 12 from Aug. 14-26.

So the moral of the story is, you can't afford to panic and make really bad deals, especially when you're talking about setup men. Krivsky later proved that you can get halfway decent arms in July and August without paying a fortune, by getting Rheal Cormier, Eddie Guardado, and Scott Schoeneweis for little.

It's somewhat worrisome that in about seven months Krivsky has nearly completely dismantled the best offense in baseball (also gone is Wily Mo Pena, though it's hard to complain too much about that trade so far, given how surprisingly well Bronson Arroyo has pitched; Krivsky still should have gotten more for Pena, however) in favor of "pitching and defense." That most overused of all baseball clichés, sounds really good, but only works if you actually have the pitching and have enough offense to be competitive. The Reds, sadly, now might not have either, which is why they've been 28-33 since the All-Star break, and 6-16 in the last three weeks.

Brennaman might be right about the prospects for next year being rather grim. But it's not because of Adam Dunn. It's because Royce Clayton, perhaps the worst everyday player in the big leagues, the four-headed monster in right of Hopper, (a vastly overmatched) Chris Denorfia, Dewayne Wise, and Todd Hollandsworth, and Jason LaRue (2-3 days a week) are just sucking all the life out of the offense. If those guys are everyday players in 2007, the Reds have no hope of contending. It's as simple as that.

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