Trading leaves players nervous

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 31, 2003

CINCINNATI - Twenty-four players sprawled on the grass for a pregame stretch, absolutely silent as they bent their legs into the required position.

''Everybody's quiet,'' bullpen coach Tom Hume said, watching from the dugout railing. ''Nobody's talking because everybody's wondering who's going to be next.''

The answer wasn't long in coming.

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The Cincinnati Reds traded outfielder Jose Guillen - their top hitter - to Oakland on Wednesday for three young pitchers. The move came less than 24 hours after they shipped closer Scott Williamson to Boston for prospects.

Instead of contending for the playoffs in their long-awaited debut season at Great American Ball Park, they're tearing up the blueprint and starting over.

''You know, I could sit here and say it's baseball, and it is,'' said shortstop Barry Larkin, downcast as he sat as his locker. ''This time of the year is always tough.

''As a fan of the Big Red Machine and the Reds and the organization, it's tough to see. We had the new stadium and the crescendo about being good and competitive, and it's gone the other way.''

Baseball's first professional franchise had been pointing toward its new ballpark for years, hoping the additional revenues and excitement would translate into their first playoff appearance since 1995.

Instead, the team was so bad - the worst defense in the majors, worst pitching in the NL and third-worst offense - that management decided to start from scratch.

In two whirlwind days, the Reds fired general manager Jim Bowden, manager Bob Boone and two coaches. Bowden's assistants then followed orders and began dealing away players.

The Guillen deal was no surprise - he didn't want to stay unless he was a starter, something the team couldn't promise. But Williamson was a young closer shipped off for prospects and money.

Fans have reacted angrily to the midseason trades, suggesting that owner Carl Lindner should have spent more than $57 million in the payroll after taxpayers put up most of the money for the new ballpark.

During the Reds' 3-2, 10-inning victory over Colorado on Wednesday night, some fans held up a sign that said, ''Boone Gone Too Soon.'' Others in the upper deck hung a banner that said, ''Reds-Mart Rolling Back Low Prices.''

The Reds weren't done shopping.

''Carl Lindner likes all of his players,'' scouting director Leland Maddox said. ''He hates to lose anybody. But if something comes along that blows us away, we'd have to look at it. We don't want to trade our core - Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns, Aaron Boone, Sean Casey.''

Maddox, one of two assistant general managers now running the team, said the New York Yankees had inquired about Boone and Casey, and had a mild interest in Guillen.

Boone, the Reds' only All-Star this year, could be the biggest name available at the right price. Seattle, which needs a third baseman, and Los Angeles have shown an interest, according to Maddox.

''He's a hot topic. Everybody wants Boone,'' Maddox said.

Two days after his father was fired, Boone wasn't in a mood to talk about his own future. He denied a report that he had demanded a trade, and tried not to get caught up in thinking about where he might end up.

Boone had only one hit in two games since his dad was fired.

''If something happens, I'll answer questions,'' said Boone, usually one of the most accessible players in the clubhouse. ''That's the situation. I'm trying to concentrate on what I've got to do.''

Three hours before the game, players put on their white home uniforms and posed on the field for the annual team photo. Guillen was in it, then was traded an hour later.

Interim manager Dave Miley sat front-and-center next to Lindner, making the photo after only one day on the job as Bob Boone's replacement. Miley was promoted from managing Triple-A Louisville.

''We had a picture of our team in the Louisville clubhouse,'' Miley said. ''When a guy left, we would use a Sharpie (marker) to extract him from the picture. A couple of days ago, I think there were about five guys left.''

As soon as the game ended, Miley's new team went back to wondering who will be next to get crossed out of the Reds' plans.

''It bothered me up until we came out on the field,'' said Adam Dunn, who singled home the winning run. ''You've got to let it go for three hours, and then it bothers you some more.

''It's so frustrating. You don't know what direction we're going in. You don't know who is going to be here. It's a mess.''