October 28, 1999: Greg Vaughn is granted Free Agency.
October 29, 1999: Juan Guzman is granted Free Agency.
December 13, 1999: Greg Vaughn is signed as a Free Agent with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
January 8, 2000: Juan Guzman is signed as a Free Agent with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
The Reds had finished first in the first two years of the newly created National League Central in both 1994 and 1995, but then finished at .500 in 1996 and below .500 in both 1997 and 1998. After having the second highest payroll in the National League in 1995, the Reds’ payroll was being continually slashed and Reds General Manager Jim Bowden was having to find creative ways to bring quality players to the Reds. The Reds often opened spring training with a myriad of players hoping to catch lightning in a bottle and showing a return to form to get another chance in the major leagues.
Pitchers like Steve Parris, Mike Remlinger, Pete Schourek, Pete Harnisch, and Jeff Shaw were all pitchers who had made major contributions to the Reds after being signed (or re-signed) or selected off waivers from teams that had removed them from 40-man rosters.
Since their first place seasons in 1994 and 1995, the Reds’ pitching staff was allowing about 1/2 run more per game, but their run scoring had declined by almost one per game. The Reds decided they needed to find some more offense and they did so in a big way by trading for home run slugger, Greg Vaughn in a deal with the San Diego Padres for long time Reds outfielder Reggie Sanders.
The Padres were looking to shed some salary and Vaughn was entering the final year of his contract, scheduled to make $5,275,000 that year. Taking on Vaughn’s salary was something the Reds were reluctant to do, and it took five days for the Reds Board of Directors to agree to the Vaughn trade. Vaughn had finished third in the National League with 50 home runs in 1998, and no Reds had approached 50 homers since George Foster in the 1970’s when Foster slugged 52 in 1977 and 40 in 1978. The 50 home runs was Vaughn’s career high, and he had hit 30 or more or two other seasons: 30 in 1993 with the Milwaukee Brewers and 41 in 1996 combined between the Brewers and the Padres.
So, the trade had some risk. Vaughn was 33 when he joined the Reds and routinely hit for low batting averages: his career average coming to the Reds was .246. The Reds needed power, however, as their 1998 leader was 2B Bret Boone who had hit 24, the first year he had surpassed 15 in his career. Vaughn responded well for the Reds, hitting 45, and turning in his usual batting average of .245, knocking in 118 runs. Vaughn also drew 85 walks, giving him an OBP of .347 and an OPS of .885. His production had actually declined a bit from 1998 in San Diego when his OPS was .960 in the best season of his career.
Vaughn’s most important game of his one season with the Reds was probably the last game of the regular season. With the Reds needing to beat the Brewers to have a chance at postseason play, Vaughn went 2-5 with a home run and three rbi in a 7-1 Reds win. The victory enabled the Reds to tie with the New York Mets for the wildcard spot in the playoffs and force a tie breaking game. Unfortunately for the Reds, they fell to the Mets on that day, 5-0 when the Mets’ Al Leiter pitched a two-hit complete game shut out.
Vaughn’s best game as a Red came on September 7 in the second game of a double header against the Cubs when he crashed three home runs and had five rbi in a 10-3 Reds win. When the season was over Vaughn left for free agency and signed with one of baseball’s newest franchises, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Vaughn’s career ended following the 2003 season with a career .242 batting average and 355 home runs.
The Reds starting pitching was spotty in 1999 and piecemealed together by Bowden. Brett Tomko was a Reds organizational draftee, and lefty Denny Neagle had been acquired through trade. However, the remainder of the rotation were free agent signees that had been released for “nonperformance” or from other team’s medical wards: Harnisch, Parris, Ron Villone, Steve Avery, and Jason Bere. When the Reds found themselves only 3.5 games out of first place on July 31st, Bowden engineered a trade for a “rent-a-pitcher.” The Reds acquired postseason tested right hander Juan Guzman from the Toronto Blue Jays for minor league pitchers Jacobo Sequea and B. J. Ryan.
Guzman previously had six double figure win seasons before coming to the Reds, and had led the American League in winning percentage in 1993 and earned run average in 1996. He also had a career 5-1 post season record with a 2.44 postseason ERA. Only 5-9 when he joined the Reds, he went 6-3 with a 3.03 ERA after July 31st for the Reds. After losing his first start, he won his next four decisions with one being a complete game and none of those starts lasting fewer than seven innings. It still wasn’t enought as the Reds finished 1 1/2 games behind the Astros for the division lead, but it was enough to give the Reds a shot at the postseason. He was granted free agency once the season was over, and he, too, signed with the upstart Tampa Bay Devil Rays. However, he only pitched one 1 2/3 innings for the Rays, allowing seven hits and eight runs and his career was over. Guzman’s career finished with a 91-79 record and a 4.08 ERA.
The Reds also had acquired pinch hitting specialist Mark Sweeney in the trade. Sweeney made only 35 plate appearances as a Red, batting .355 in 37 games. The Reds kept him at AAA Indianapolis for most of the year where he batted .322. Sweeney played 14 major league seasons, appearing in 1218 games with a .254 lifetime batting average and 42 home runs. Sweeney was traded to the Brewers at season’s end for outfielder Alex Ochoa.
Meanwhile, the Padres picked up two new starting positional players in OF Reggie Sanders and shortstop Damian Jackson. Sanders was long time Reds popular outfielder whose fans turned on him a bit during the 1995 league championship loss to the Atlanta Braves. In 1995, Sanders was in his fifth season as a Red and had the best season of his career, batting .306 with 28 homers, 99 rbi, and an OPS of .975. The Braves, however, struck him out 10 times in 18 plate appearances in the championship series, and he went a combined 4-29 in the playoff games versus the Braves and Dodgers. Sanders had a very good 1999 season with the Padres, batting .285 with 26 homers and 72 rbi, putting up a .904 OPS. The Padres then traded him to the Braves and he played eight more major league seasons as traveling slugger with a bat, playing for five different teams during that time. Sanders played a total of 17 seasons with a career batting average of .267 with 305 home runs and 304 stolen bases.
For three years Damian Jackson had been trying to maintain a major league job when he was traded to the Padres in the Vaughn deal. He became their starting shortstop for three seasons with an OPS trail of .676, .721, and .660. Jackson was traded to the Tigers following the 2001 season and was a utility infielder for various teams through 1996. He finished his 11 year career with a .243 batting average and 32 home runs.
Jacobo Sequea was a young 17 year old pitcher when the Reds traded him to the Orioles. In eight minor league seasons he only pitched 23 AAA games and was out of baseball following the 2005 season. Likewise, Josh Harris (from the Vaughn trade) never made it out of the minor leagues.
B.J. Ryan, on the other hand, is the lowest crown jewel in this case. Ryan had been rapidly moving through the Reds organization, moving up from Rookie Ball to AAA within two seasons, pitching 90 games in relief. He had pitched two innings in one major league game before being included in the Guzman deal to Baltimore, where he worked his way into being a star closer, eventually signing a $12 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. He pitched in middle relief for 5 1/2 years with the Orioles before exploding for 36 and 38 save seasons, including a 1.37 ERA one year for Toronto. He has pitched 569 major league games with a career 3.37 ERA.
The Reds again finished second in the National League central again, but were never really in contention finishing 10 games behind the Cardinals. Adding the slugger, Vaughn, gave them a tool they didn’t have before, and Vaughn provided additional leadership that an outside force can sometimes add to push a team to the next level. The acquisition of Vaughn, who sported facial hair, and letters from fans, led Reds owner Marge Schott to end the Reds’ team ban on facial hair which had been in existence for over 30 years. (According to “Redleg Journal,”, the last Reds with facial hair were Tom Daly and Hall of Famer Jake Beckley who had moustaches back in 1903). Guzman was the kind of pitcher with postseason experience a contending team could be expected to add to help them along, too. The trades came at a cost (Sanders, Jackson, Ryan), but they almost paid off and the Reds drew 54,621 fans to the one game playoff.
It should be noted that Sean Casey’s and Eddie Taubensee’s career years paid off, too. Casey batted .332 with 25 homers and 99 rbi, and Taubensee hit .311 with 21 homers and 87 rbi during that 1999 season. Also note the sad irony that both of these players signed with the Devil Rays within one month of each other, and a little more than one month after leaving the Reds. Vaughn signed for about $1.4 million than the Reds paid in 1999 and Guzman signed for $750,000 more.