The 1999 and 2000 Reds were some of General Manager Jim Bowden’s busiest transaction years. Trying to balance the team’s budget around the salaries of stars such as Barry Larkin ($5.3 million), Dante Bichette ($7 million), Denny Neagle (4.75 million), Pete Harnisch (3.25 million) and Ken Griffey, Jr., ($9.33 million), it seemed that the Reds were a constant tryout camp for outgoing manager Jack McKeon (fired after 2000), and new manager Bob Boone. The Reds were busy managing the middle income portion of their roster. As players began to hit “middle major league” income they were dealt.
The Reds had nearly made the postseason in 1999 when they tied for with the New York Mets for the wildcard slot, only to lose a playoff game with the Mets to finish the season 96-67 under manager McKeon. Having acquired Griffey in the 1999 postseason, the Reds had high expectations for 2000. However, we now know that Sean Casey and Taubensee had career years in 1999, Bichette’s bat didn’t replace Greg Vaughn’s, Larkin played 59 less games due to injury, and while Griffey hit better than Mike Cameron, they missed Cameron’s centerfield defense. In fact, WAR (wins above replacement) measure’s Griffey’s 2000 performance (5.4) as essentially one-half win better than Cameron’s in 1999 (4.8) as both were the best player on their respective seasonal squads. So, despite raising the payroll from $33.9 million in 1999 to $46.8 million in 2000, the Reds fell from 96 wins to 85 and McKeon was shown the door.
Enter Boone as micro-manager for the year 2000. While McKeon was a talent scout extraordinaire (nickname “Trader Jack”), Boone liked to tinker with is team. Not day-to-day mind you, but out by out during ballgames. There was even one game in 2001 when utility infielders Juan Castro and Bill Selby switched positions between third base and second base depending on the batter’s handedness.
The management team of Bowden/McKeon were constantly holding a tryout camp and the Bowden/Boone management team were always searching for the right part to add to the machine. This made for a huge revolving door that Bowden used to acquire “toolsy” players, typically athletic players with speed. McKeon liked speed on his squad for the added dimension, Boone liked speed as something else he could manage.
So, Bowden and the Reds went to acquiring other organization’s “failed prospects,” hoping to find inexpensive gold from other’s team’s castoffs. Unfortunately, most times they found “fool’s gold” that didn’t pan out.
The two players received from the Boston Red Sox for Stynes, Michael Coleman and Donnie Sadler are two such examples. Coleman was nicknamed “Prime Time” (the Reds had two “Prime Times” at the same time, Coleman and Deion Sanders), and was a power/speed prospect from the Red Sox system, having hit 30 AAA homers in 1999 and having stolen 20 or more bases in three different minor league seasons (Coleman had been 5-31 in two major league cups of coffee). Sadler was a light hitting speedy utility guy for the Red Sox (.242 in three seasons) that could play nearly every defensive position. Sadler was dealt to the Kansas City Royals in midseason, 2001, after hitting .202 in 39 games. Meanwhile, the Reds decided one Prime Time was enough for any organization and dealt Coleman to the Yankees in March for another failed prospect, Wily Mo Pena.
Meanwhile, the Reds went through countless “athletic” outfielders in the 2000-01 seasons. They also signed pitchers like crazy and would sometimes have dozens of pitchers in spring training, sifting through them one by one, trying to find the guy with the new magic “out” pitch. The Taubensee trade netted Jim Brower and Robert Pugmire from the Cleveland Indians. Pugmire started four minor league games for the Reds organization and was finished. Brower made the Reds’ 2001-02 squads, pitching in 68 games (10 starts), going 9-10 with a 3.95 ERA. Brower was traded in 2002 for lefty Bruce Chen, who made 39 appearances for the Reds (0-2, 4.31 ERA) and was later released.. For his career, Brower was 33-32 in nine seasons for a 4.67 ERA. Chen has recovered to have a checquered career: 48-50 with a 4.64 ERA in twelve seasons. 25 of his 48 wins came in 2005 and 2010.
To Bowden’s credit, he did seem to know when to deal players. After Taubensee’s fine 1999 (.311, 21 homers, .876 OPS), he had slumped to .267 with six homers in 2000. He only played one more major league season, batting .250 with three homers for Cleveland in 2001. Stynes’s two best major league seasons were bookends for the Reds. He batted .348 in 49 games when the Reds first acquired him in 1997 and in 2000 Stynes batted .334 with 12 homers in 119 games. He played four more major league seasons and collectively hit .255 with 25 home runs in those four seasons (406 games). The Reds scouting team apparently knew they were done.