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Reds' outfield assets dropping in valueBy Jerry Crasnick

ESPN Insider

Archive Related Video:

What should Reds do with their outfield?

 

BOSTON ? Cincinnati's outfielders have been the subject of so many trade rumors, the buzz is circulating all the way to the infield.

 

If Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns or Wily Mo Pena doesn't leave town, Sean Casey wonders if he might be jettisoned to clear the way for Dunn to move to first base. Never mind that Casey's trade value is limited by his three homers in 231 at-bats, his 15 double-play groundouts and his $8.5 million salary next season.

 

"You hear all the rumors and you talk about it," Casey said. "Guys will come in and say to each other, 'Hey, you're going to the Dodgers tomorrow.' Or, 'Somebody has you going to Boston.' We all see it and we know it's out there."

 

 

In spring training, when the Reds had some basis for optimism, general manager Dan O'Brien thought it would be prudent to keep all four outfielders because everyone except Dunn had injury issues and it seemed important to have some depth.

 

Three months later, the trade rumors and manager Dave Miley's job status are about the only things left worth monitoring in Cincinnati. Reds pitchers rank 28th in the major leagues with a 5.57 ERA, the hitters have struck out an astounding 509 times, and Cincinnati is going to have difficulty catching Pittsburgh, much less St. Louis, in the National League Central.

 

O'Brien continues to maintain he has no plans to move an outfielder. But in the meantime, he is sitting on a bunch of depreciable assets. If Griffey gets hurt, his trade value will diminish. As Dunn and Pena get more expensive, their value diminishes. And when the Reds demoted Kearns to Triple-A Louisville last week, his trade value ? at least for the short-term ? diminished.

 

The industry consensus is that O'Brien, deliberate by nature, is more likely to go into a shell than act recklessly in response to the Reds' problems. Dumping Danny Graves was one thing. Trading an impact everyday player is another. O'Brien is already taking heat for spending $25.5 million on pitcher Eric Milton, who has been a disaster. O'Brien is not so much wary of trading an outfielder as trading the wrong outfielder.

 

"I think he's very gun-shy and he'll stand pat," said an AL executive. "Rigor mortis is starting to set in."

 

In the event O'Brien changes his mind, here's a look at Cincinnati's four outfielders and some of the factors the team will have to consider in its decision making:

 

 

Adam Dunn

Dunn's biggest appeal lies in his awesome power. While the home run totals have declined for several prominent sluggers ? ostensibly because of more stringent drug testing ? he remains one of baseball's premier ozone busters.

 

Dunn's drawbacks: He is an average defender at best, he's a lock to whiff 180 times a season, and he is about to get very costly. If Dunn hits 45-50 homers this year, he might receive $9 million in salary arbitration. Do the Reds want to have almost $40 million invested in Griffey, Dunn, Casey and Milton in 2005?

 

Dunn, a laid-back player, has taken a few playful jabs at management of late. After Miley recently removed Dunn and Griffey's lounging massage chairs from the clubhouse, Dunn told Hal McCoy of the Dayton Daily News that his chair wanted to be traded.

 

But Dunn was in less of a joking mood when the Reds shipped his buddy Kearns to the minors. "With some things that go on around here, you just think, 'Whatever,' " Dunn told Insider. "We're still trying to figure out why they do certain things."

 

While Dunn would look great playing first base for the Mets or Red Sox, Boston GM Theo Epstein seems more inclined to go for pitching than offense in preparation for the stretch run. There's speculation that Dunn would love to go home to Houston and play for the Astros, but he is still two years away from free agency.

 

 

 

 

Ken Griffey Jr.

Griffey, while a far cry from the old All-Century Junior, is having a productive enough season without a whole lot of attention. He ranks 19th among NL outfielders with a combined .829 on-base/slugging percentage, and he has appeared in 60 of Cincinnati's first 64 games.

 

But several factors make it unlikely that Griffey will be traded. Because of his service time, he has full veto power over any trade. And the Reds still owe Griffey about $47 million in guaranteed money through 2008. If the Reds have to pick up a large chunk of that money to induce someone to take him, what's the point?

 

Griffey isn't going to leave Cincinnati to play for a losing club, and he would prefer to play for a team that has spring training in Florida, near his home in Orlando. Although a Seattle reunion might have a certain appeal, the Mariners are playing .435 ball and they have just invested $114 million in Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson. They're not exactly in a rush to add another big ticket to their payroll.

 

"Kenny still has hopes of winning in his hometown, but obviously everybody knows that it's a business too," said Brian Goldberg, Griffey's agent. "If it's a situation where the Reds feel it could help them, certainly we'll be open-minded to hear what they have to say. But he's not looking to leave."

 

Still, one executive characterized the chances of Griffey's leaving Cincinnati as "next to nil."

 

 

 

Wily Mo Pena

Pena, a rock-solid 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, is equal parts phenom and carnival sideshow. He is capable of hitting two balls 450 feet in the same game, then butchering a routine fly ball or whiffing three times in a row.

 

His lack of durability is also a concern. Even some of Pena's teammates wondered when he missed 26 games with a strained left quadriceps, then returned from the DL and almost immediately missed a game with a sore right knee.

 

 

Nationals GM Jim Bowden, who absolutely loves "tools" guys, salivates over Pena, and he's not alone. Yet there's an undercurrent of fear behind the Reds' hesitancy to trade Pena. One person close to the team says that Cincinnati management is "scared to death" that Pena will be dealt and blossom into an offensive force somewhere else.

 

 

Austin Kearns

The Reds could have traded Kearns to a slew of clubs over the winter. Atlanta, Kansas City, Toronto, Cleveland, Oakland, San Diego and Boston were among the teams with an interest in adding a young, affordable outfield bat with lots of potential upside.

 

O'Brien chose to keep Kearns, and now that looks like a questionable call. Kearns had a chance to seize the right field job when Pena spent a month on the disabled list, but fell into a 3-for-36 slump and was shipped to Louisville in a surprise demotion Sunday.

 

Kearns, while a fundamentally-sound, all-around player when right, remains a puzzle at age 25. He is injury prone, and some Reds watchers think he hasn't been the same since he hurt his shoulder in a home-plate collision with Ray King in 2003. He also is knocked by scouts who think he has been slow to adapt as a hitter. Kearns likes to crowd the plate, and he has failed to adjust as teams continue to pound him with hard stuff inside.

 

The Reds insist they had no hidden agenda in sending Kearns to the minors. "We like Austin Kearns a great deal," said Dean Taylor, Cincinnati's assistant GM. "We think he's still a quality major-league player. But the only way for him to get back to where he was a couple of years ago is to get at-bats on an everyday basis."

 

Have the Reds soured on Kearns enough to move him? Apparently not.

 

"We've called them on Kearns a bunch of times," said an official with another club, "but we haven't been able to get them to budge."

 

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN Insider. His book "License To Deal" has been published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.

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