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Redleg Trade Review: Jeff Russell for Buddy Bell

July 23, 1985: Jeff Russell is sent by the Cincinnati Reds to the Texas Rangers to complete an earlier deal made on July 19, 1985. The Cincinnati Reds sent a player to be named later and Duane Walker to the Texas Rangers for a player to be named later and Buddy Bell. The Cincinnati Reds sent Jeff Russell (July 23, 1985) to the Texas Rangers to complete the trade.

1982 was one of the worst years in Reds’ history with the team losing 101 games. The team replaced John McNamara as manager during the 1982 season and replaced him with Russ Nixon, and the team improved to 74 games in the win column for 1983. Not satisfied with the results, Nixon was fired and the Reds hired Vern Rapp, who didn’t make it through the season. The Reds traded for Pete Rose, who was named player-manager, and the Reds finished with 70 wins. Under Rose’s direction, the team spiked and jumped to win totals of 89, 86, 84, and 87, finished second over the next four seasons before scandal brought down the team’s manager and the team.

Jeff Russell joined the team in mid-season 1983 at age 21, and was inserted into the starting rotation and performed quite well. Over 10 starts, he went 4-5 with a 3.03 ERA and two complete games. His strikeout ratio was low (only 5.3 per nine innings), but he allowed less than one hit per inning.

The bottom began falling out for him in 1984. Russell led the league in losses in a 6-18 season with a 4.26 ERA. His hits allowed per nine innings had risen from 7.6 to 9.2, and the extra hit and a half translated into an extra run per game in a time where run scoring was much lower than it is in the 21st century. Russell, who had tied for second in starts for the Reds in 1984, was farmed out in 1985 with his rotation spot being replaced with rookie Tom Browning, youngster Ron Robinson, and newly acquired veterans John Stuper and Andy McGaffigan.

Duane Walker had been one of a series of outfield prospects (others being Paul Householder , Eddie Milner, Gary Redus) the Reds had been heralding since the early 1980’s that had not panned out. Redus ended up with a decent career, Householder had been dealt away in 1984 after having a personality clash with Rapp, and Milner became known as a “defensive centerfielder,” albeit one who couldn’t hit. Eric Davis was on the rise and Nick Esasky was the team’s prodigy power hitter for whom they couldn’t find a position with Dan Driessen, and later Rose, playing first base. Drafted as a shortstop, Esasky was spending the majority of his time at 3b. Also, Dave Parker had been signed to bring leadership and power to this young Reds team and a very crowded outfield. Former Astro great Cesar Cedeno was also in this playing mix.

Walker had just come off his best season in 1984. The former first round draft pick batted .292 with 10 homers and a 920 OPS in half-time duty. However, his 1985 bottomed out when he didn’t win a starting job out of spring training and was limited to pinch hitting duty. In 37 games with the Reds (54 plate appearances), Walker hit only .167 with 2 homers. After his trade to the Rangers, it didn’t get any better as he hit .174 for them. He didn’t make it back to the majors until three years later when he hit .182 for the Cardinals in his final 24 big league plate appearances.

With all the transactions surrounding the Reds outfielders and the acquistion of Rose and signing of Tony Perez the previous year, general manager Bob Howsam had onced again re-worked a Reds roster. Howsam himself had returned as Reds General Manager to bring the team back to its glory days and part of his ploy was to bring some fan goodwill with the signing of Perez and trade for Rose.

With senior citizens Rose and Perez (and Cedeno) manning first base, Esasky was assigned the awkward duty of third base with Wayne Krenchicki being his defensive caddy and a left handed bat off the bench. Eventually the Reds realized that Esasky was not going to be the third baseman of the future. Howsam then decided to bring in another Red memory in third baseman Buddy Bell, son of former Red great Gus Bell.

Buddy Bell was a five-time American League all-star and had won six consecutive Gold Gloves when the Reds traded both Walker and Russell for him. A good and consistent hitter, Bell typically batted in the .290’s with 10-15 home run power. He was the anti-Nick Esasky of his time as Esasky had tremendous power but was prone to striking out, lower batting averages, and was a first baseman palying third base (and left field). Bell was 33 years old when acquired, in his 14th season as a major leaguer.

Unfortunately, for the Reds and Bell, Buddy didn’t hit well in his first National League stint, batting only .219 with six homers in that first half season, and his defensive stats looked remarkably similar to Esasky’s defensive stats at third base (both posted a .946 fielding percentage with Esasky actually showing better range with each playing between 60-70 games at 3B). The Reds finished second, 5 1/2 games behind the Dodgers

Bell played much better in 1986, having one of his best offensive seasons. He batted .278 and established a career high with 20 homers. His fielding improved, but he was proving to no longer have the Gold Glove abilities he had demonstrated in the American League. In fact, available stats show he was a less than average fielder for the Reds in the four seasons he spent with the club. Bell’s offense slowly faded, too, and he was traded to the Astros early in the 1988 season. He was out of baseball after 1989. With two full seasons, and two partial seasons with the Reds, Buddy Bell batted .266 with 43 home runs.

Jeff Russell’s time with Texas got off to a rough start, too. He split 1985 between the majors and minors, going 3-6 with a 7.55 ERA in 13 starts with the Rangers. He started 1986 as a rotation starter in the minors, but when called up to the majors he was shifted to the bullpen and Russell had a new career. He spent he first two seasons in middle relief, and in 1988 was back in the Rangers’ rotation and was named to the all-star team. In 1989 he became the Rangers’ closer and led the league with 38 saves built on a 1.98 ERA over 71 games. He went on to save 186 games in a 14 year career, pitching in 589 games along the way. He had four seasons of 30 or more saves.

I don’t know that this was a bad trade for either team. The Reds did sell low on Russell, but guessed right on Walker who had his best season at age 27, which is a typical best season age for most hitters. They bought high on Bell, whose hitting and fielding were on the wane, and expectedly so at age 33. However, they wanted to plug a fielding hole at third base and were in contention for the division title at the time of the trade. This kind of trade is what contending teams do to put them over the top and the Rangers were willing to make the deal because they needed pitching and they had a young Steve Buechele ready to move into the lineup. It was a trade necessitated by need for the teams and possibly a change of scenery need for Russell and Walker. Also, if you’ll look at Russell’s career as a reliever, he spent 10 years in the bullpen and 158 of his 196 saves came in five seasons…thus the ups and downs of life as a big league reliever. The Reds remained contenders with Bell in the lineup, and the Rangers became contenders in 1989 when Russell had his biggest seasons.

3 thoughts on “Redleg Trade Review: Jeff Russell for Buddy Bell

  1. Good Stuff. It’s funny how my selective memory remembers Buddy Bell being better for the Reds. I also remembered Gary Redus as being better than his stats suggest. I guess when you like a player, you don’t let a little thing like the truth get in your way.

  2. RCR,

    I don’t think you have a bad memory…frankly, I almost fell out of my chair last night when I looked up the defensive stats. Bell had two good offensive seasons for the Reds, but they were good, not very good, even by 1980’s standards. I checked his defensive stats for the Reds versus the Rangers and it looked like he just dropped off the table.

    I’m always a bit suspicious of defensive stats, but then I considered his age…he was 33 coming to the Reds and defense is one of the first things to go as players lose their quickness.

    I didn’t include this, but one reference said when Bell hit .219 his first half season with the Reds it was said to be because he couldn’t hit high fastballs. Apparently, the American League was a curveball league and Bell could hit them better. He bounced back to hit 20 homers the next year, which would seem to give the high ball problem some validity since high fastballs can fly out of the ball park, but, if so, he could only maintain the stroke for one year or the pitchers to him again.

  3. What’s most noteworthy about Buddy Bell, in my opinion, is that he was a very good but not Hall of Fame quality 3B — solid hitter and very good fielder — and his last good year was at age 35.

    Scott Rolen is a very good but not Hall of Fame quality 3B, and he’ll be 35 in April.

    I think Rolen will be fine — I’m not anti-Rolen even though I hate the trade — but let’s just be clear that we shouldn’t expect anything out of him after 2010.

    Our trade was basically for one year out of Rolen, and then I’m hoping that Frazier will be ready to step in in 2011 (and that Walt and Co. will have the sense NOT to re-sign Rolen even if he’s pretty good next year).

    This is a huge part of my beef w/ the trade — giving up SO much for him (cost-controlled promising players) for ONE year of Rolen at 3B. That’s it.

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