Why the Reds won't part with Pokey Reese—even for Junior
Reds general manager Jim Bowden estimated that he invested nearly five hours a day for five weeks trying to obtain Ken Griffey Jr. in a trade with the Mariners. "My personal favorite player," he calls the Seatde centerfielder. Bowden knew it could be one of those seismic, franchise-changing acquisitions, as Mark McGwire was for the Cardinals, Nolan Ryan was for the Astros and Babe Ruth was for the Yankees. Bowden considered every option that might make the deal happen—every option, that is, but the notion of giving up a 180-pound middle infielder with a .258 career batting average.
At a news conference last Saturday at the winter meetings in Anaheim, an anguished Bowden didn't just announce that he had abandoned all hope of trading for Griffey—for the time being, anyway. He also formally introduced Calvin (Pokey) Reese to the world. Say hello to the man who (as of Monday, at least) was too valuable to put in a deal for Junior.
Bowden never did refer to Reese by name, saying only that he and Seattle G.M. Pat Gillick moved "not a centimeter" over the past five weeks in their talks because "we just couldn't get past that particular player." Several sources said Gillick kept asking for package after package that started with Reese—the last of which also included righthanded reliever Scott Williamson, the 1999 National League Rookie of the Year; lefthanded pitching prospect Ty Howington, the Reds' No. 1 draft pick this year; and highly regarded shortstop prospect Travis Dawkins. Bowden kept saying no, and by Saturday he'd had enough.
Until last week Reese, 26, was known, if at all, as a Gold Glove second baseman who wore cornrows last season to honor Allen Iverson, his favorite NBA player, and who enjoyed a quiet breakout season (his third in the majors but first playing full time) with modest numbers at the plate: a .285 average, 10 home runs, 52 RBIs, 38 stolen bases in 45 attempts and a .330 on-base percentage—12 points worse than the league average. He finished 10th at his position in All-Star balloting.
More important than Reese's past is his future: The Reds view him as the possible replacement for 35-year-old shortstop Barry Larkin. ( Cincinnati offered Larkin to other clubs at the winter meetings.) The team's brass believes Reese is superior in range, throwing arm and reliability to the Mets' Rey Ordo�ez, generally regarded as baseball's best defensive shortstop.
"He's better than Larkin—way better," says one National League manager of Reese. "I wouldn't have put him in a deal for Griffey, either. He's that good. He's going to hit for average, steal bases, play hard and be the best fielding shortstop in the game. And he's still young."
Another manager, the Diamondbacks' Buck Showalter, says, "I thought there were two or three games this year when the Reds beat us just because of Pokey Reese, especially on defense. I know [writers and fans] talked about the Gold Glove being a toss-up between [the Mets'] Edgardo Alfonzo and Pokey Reese. Everybody in baseball knew it was no contest. He's that good."
He'd better be, lest he join those infamously unworthy of such precious treatment—the likes of centerfielder Jim Edmonds (whom the Angels wouldn't give up to get McGwire) and righthander Jaret Wright (whom the Indians wouldn't ship to the Expos to land Pedro Martinez). "That's not pressure," Reese says. "Getting to the big leagues—that was pressure. If people want to ask me about it, that's fine. They can come at me all they want But they should talk to Jim Bowden. It wasn't me who didn't make the trade. I'm just honored to be mentioned in the same sentence as Ken Griffey. And I hope we get to see me, Barry Larkin and Ken Griffey playing up the middle."
That still may very well happen. Brian Goldberg, the agent for Griffey, said on Sunday that his client would use his contractual right to block potential trades to all teams but Cincinnati, undercutting Gillick's efforts to create a market in talks with the Cardinals, Indians, Mets and Pirates.