- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 2006

When the new owners of the Washington Nationals talked about the need to rebuild the organization for the long haul, it was assumed they planned to do so by trading away veteran players in exchange for prospects.

Never assume.

The Nationals completed an eight-player trade with the Cincinnati Reds yesterday, acquiring a pair of established-but-young commodities in outfielder Austin Kearns and infielder Felipe Lopez along with minor-league reliever Ryan Wagner in exchange for young relievers Gary Majewski and Bill Bray, veteran shortstop Royce Clayton and minor leaguers Brendan Harris and Daryl Thompson.

On the day before his club opens the second half of the season in Pittsburgh, Bowden dramatically altered the makeup of his current roster, while still focused on the team’s long-term future.

“I think a lot of people were expecting all of our deals to be for rookie-ball, [Class] A-ball and [Class AA] players,” Bowden said. “What this deal allowed us to do is send a message that when we have an opportunity to make trades to add young players that are ready at the major-league level, we’re willing to do that as well.”

In Kearns and Lopez, the Nationals believe they’ve found long-term answers at right field and shortstop with a pair of 26-year-olds who already have proved themselves as quality major leaguers.

Kearns is on pace to hit 30 homers and drive in 93 runs this season while posting a career-high .274 batting average and playing solid defense. Lopez was an All-Star a year ago when he hit .291 with 23 homers and 85 RBI, and though his numbers have dropped this season, he’s still regarded as a player on the rise.

“We believe that [Kearns] and Felipe Lopez are both very good, young, everyday players, who along with [Ryan Zimmerman, Nick Johnson and Brian Schneider] give us a real good nucleus of young players in their mid-20s,” Bowden said.

Bowden had to give up a lot to acquire those two building blocks. Majewski and Bray were regarded as two of the franchise’s best young relievers. Harris was highly thought of as a utility infielder and Thompson (a right-hander) was rated the ninth-best prospect in the organization by Baseball America.

The deal also cost Washington money, with Lopez ($2.7 million) and Kearns ($1.85 million) making more than the $2 million Majewski, Bray, Harris and Clayton were making combined. Bowden received approval to make the trade from outgoing president Tony Tavares, new owners Ted and Mark Lerner and incoming president Stan Kasten.

“Even though this wasn’t about minor leaguers and it wasn’t about draft picks and it wasn’t about pitchers and it was about increasing payroll, that’s fine,” Kasten said. “Because it was an excellent opportunity to improve our team as fast as we can. I’ve never put a date on how long that would take, because I don’t want to hold anything back.”

The deal does leave some gaping holes in the Nationals’ bullpen while creating a potential logjam in the outfield for the immediate future. Manager Frank Robinson had counted on Majewski (3-2, 3.58 ERA) as his top set-up man, with Bray (1-1, 3.91) emerging as one of his top left-handed relievers.

Washington will purchase the contract of right-hander Roy Corcoran from Class AAA New Orleans to help fill the void, but Robinson now finds himself with a bullpen of closer Chad Cordero, Corcoran, right-handers Jon Rauch and Saul Rivera and lefties Mike Stanton and Micah Bowie.

“I think our pitching staff’s going to take a major hit,” Bowden admitted.

The Nationals’ outfield, meanwhile, now boasts Alfonso Soriano, Jose Guillen, Marlon Byrd and Alex Escobar to go along with Kearns. Bowden said Kearns would play center field for now, but made it clear he ultimately will play right field (which seems to indicate a certain end to Guillen’s tenure in the District).

“The pieces don’t fit perfectly as far as trying to improve this team,” Bowden said. “But our goal is to build a team in the long run that’s going to win for a long time. And we believe that this deal helps us in that direction.”

Yesterday’s trade stunned the Reds and their fans, who are gearing up for a pennant race over the next three months. Kearns, a native of Lexington, Ky., was one of the club’s most-popular players.

“I wasn’t surprised that it was made,” he told reporters in Cincinnati. “But I’ve never been traded before, so when you get called in, it’s definitely a surprise.”

Kearns is a career .267 hitter with power potential and a solid .358 on-base percentage, but he strikes out once every 3.5 at-bats, drawing some comparisons to former Nationals outfielder Brad Wilkerson.

Lopez is a career .259 hitter who also has a penchant for striking out but who hit 23 homers a year ago and has already stolen 23 bases this season. He has committed 14 errors at shortstop through 84 games and has been criticized at times for his inability to make routine plays.

Kearns and Lopez, who both become free agents after the 2008 season, are expected to be in uniform for the Nationals tonight in Pittsburgh. Wagner, the Reds’ first-round draft pick in 2004, will report to New Orleans. All three were either drafted or acquired by Bowden during his 101/2-year stint as Reds GM.

Majewski, Bray and Clayton will all be thrust into key roles with a Cincinnati club that is four games back in the National League Central and 21/2 games back in the NL wild-card race.

“It is tough to get quality pitching, whether it’s a starter or a reliever,” Reds GM Wayne Krivsky said in a press conference at Great American Ballpark. “You’ve got give up something, and we did. We paid a steep price.”

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To submit a question, go to the https://www.washingtontimes.com/sports>Sports Page

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