Everyone knows it.
Me, Chad, The Nation, everybody.
The Reds need to obtain a veteran starting pitcher who can reliably show up on the mound every fifth day, give them (dare I say?) 180 innings of work and anchor the pitching staff. Given that the Reds are a small market team, getting one through free agency probably won’t happen. It’s been tried before, without good results. Everybody remembers the Eric Milton experiment.
So an acquisition by trade is probably the best way to acquire one of these pitchers. Historically, it has been a mixed bag that has worked at times. Sometimes, it hasn’t. While fitfully trying to go to sleep after Houston’s Game 7 win last week, I recalled a few trades made to help out beleaguered Reds pitching staffs in the past. And believe me, there have been a lot of them.
Now it’s Dick Williams’ turn. If he’s serious about making the 2018 Reds contenders, he needs to pull the trigger. Maybe we can count on Homer Bailey filling that role, but I wouldn’t bet on it. It can be done, as shown below, but it’s a minefield. Even Bob Howsam misfired.
Without further ado, here are ten times the Reds went out and traded for pitching. Some were strokes of genius. Others were a disaster.
1. Jim Merritt
The Reds traded All-Star shortstop Leo Cardenas to the Minnesota Twins for Merritt after the 1968 season. Merritt was a soft-throwing lefthander with great control and for the next two years he was the ace of the Reds staff, winning 17 games in 1969 and was 20-12 in 1970. Known as “O.C.” (Occasional Cocktail), Merritt had an off-season accident (falling off a roof), but bounced back to get an Opening Day win in 1970 over the Expos 5-1. An elbow injury started to slow him down in September of 1970 and the next year was a disaster for Merritt, who finished with a 1-11 record. As the Reds player representative and labor unrest beginning (there was a strike at the start of the 1972 season), Reds fans booed Merritt unmercifully and he was traded after that season to Texas for Hal King.
Grade: B. Cardenas had been with the Reds since 1961 and in a perfect world, could have mentored Dave Concepcion upon his arrival in Cincinnati. So for two years, the Reds played Woody Woodward and Frank Duffy at that key position. But Merritt won 37 games those two years and was very reliable until he injured his arm. In the end, it was a good trade for both the Twins and the Reds.
2. Jim McGlothlin
The Reds were coming off an 89-win season in 1969 and needed to bolster their pitching staff. They were heavy on bats and light on pitching. GM Bob Howsam traded talented but cantankerous outfielder Alex Johnson and Chico Ruiz to the California Angels for McGlothlin, a right handed starting pitcher, and rubber-armed reliever Pedro Borbon.
The trade paid immediate dividends. McGlothlin started off hot as he, Jim Merritt, Wayne Simpson, and Gary Nolan propelled the Big Red Machine to a 70-30 record after 100 games. McGlothlin had a great sinkerball and a good curve ball as well. He pitched the final game at Crosley Field on June 30, 1970 (a 5-4 Reds win) and he also started the first game at Riverfront Stadium against the Braves. But, like Simpson and Merritt, McGlothlin got injured. A line drive struck him on the knee in July and in August he got hit by a line drive to the face. He also bruised a toe. McGlothlin was still able to pitch but was not nearly as effective. He finished 1970 with a 14-10 record with a 3.59 earned run average.
He pitched for the Reds until the 1973 season, compiling an overall record in Cincinnati of 34-33. Tragically, Jim died of cancer in 1975 at the age of 31.
Grade: B. Borbon became a great relief pitcher for Cincinnati and is in the Reds Hall of Fame. Predictably, Johnson got in trouble with the Angels. He won a batting title in 1970 but feuded with teammates and management and was gone shortly after that. In another tragedy, Ruiz died in a traffic accident. Jim McGlothlin, freckle-faced and with red hair, was popular with his teammates. His story isn’t widely known these days, but this was a still a good trade by Bob Howsam.
3. Roger Nelson
Howsam loved this trade. He acquired Nelson (and Richie Scheinblum) from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Hal McRae and Wayne Simpson after the 1972 season. Nelson was 14-8 with a very low 2.12 ERA for the Royals in ’71. The trouble was Nelson had a history of injuries; Howsam thought they were over. They came back. “Spider” pitched only 139 innings for the Reds in two years and had a record of 7-6. He returned to the Royals but retired in 1976. McRae went on to a great career as a DH and is in the Royals Hall of Fame.
4. Fred Norman
The Reds stumbled starting off the 1973 season as defending NL Champs. Sparky Anderson, known as “Captain Hook” for pulling his starting pitchers, desperately needed a reliable starting pitcher. Howsam got him one.
He traded with last-place San Diego for Fred Norman, a little-known lefty. Norman was what’s known as a “crafty lefthander.” His assortment of off-speed pitches, an occasional fastball and changeup kept hitters off balance. He was reliable, not prone to injury but had never pitched for a winning team. His won-loss record was irrelevant; he was 3-12 for a bad Padres team in 1971 and 1-7 when Howsam traded hot-shot Triple A prospect Gene Locklear for Norman on June 12, 1973.
In his debut with the Reds, Captain Hook stayed on the bench, permitting Norman to toss a five-hit shutout against the Pirates before more than 27,000 fans at Riverfront Stadium. The Reds were off and rolling. Many point to Hal King’s dramatic three-run pinch-hit homer against the Dodgers as the turning point of the season; it was in a sense, but the Reds do not win the 1973 NL West Division championship without Fred Norman. The 5’8” lefty was 12-6 for the Reds in 1973 with a 3.30 ERA. In the next few years, his innings pitched were: 186, 188, 180, 221, 177 and 195.
Norman was a shot in the arm and a linchpin in the Reds starting staff during the heyday of the Big Red Machine.
Grade: A. Locklear struggled with the Padres for four years, then went to the Yankees for two more before retiring. Fred Norman gets my vote to be inducted in the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame.
5. Woodie Fryman
The Reds traded Tony Perez to make room for Danny Driessen at first base, but you’d have to think Howsam could have gotten much more in return than Fryman and relief pitcher Dale Murray. Anderson selected Fryman to start Opening Day of 1977 but by the end of May, he was in Sparky’s doghouse and pitching out of the bullpen. Later, Fryman abruptly quit and was traded after the season, going down as one of the most unpopular Reds in their history.
6. Tom Seaver
At long last, the Reds got a true ace in 1977. And Tom Terrific was, well, terrific. He wasn’t the Seaver of 1969 but he was still one of the best pitchers in baseball. In exchange for Seaver, the Reds traded Pat Zachry, Dan Norman, Steve Henderson, and Doug Flynn. Norman and Henderson were top prospects, Flynn was a utility player and Zachry was a second-year pitcher. Considering that, and the fact that Seaver was Seaver, it was a good trade for the Cincinnati Reds.
7. Bill Bonham
The Reds thought they might get a steal on this one. Bonham, like Norman, was pitching for a bad team in the Chicago Cubs. Cincinnati needed another starter and traded Woodie Fryman and Bill Caudill for Bonham. The tall righthander was good, but not great. He posted records of 11-5 (3.53) and 9-7 (3.79) but was released shortly into the 1980 season and retired at the age of 31.
Grade: C. Getting rid of Fryman was a plus. Caudill had some decent years for the Cubs as a reliever. Ditto for Bonham with the Reds. This was a wash.
8. Bill Gullickson
Gullickson had been one of Montreal’s best starters over a 7-year career when the Reds got him after the 1985 season. GM Bill Bergesch traded Dann Bilardello, Andy McGaffigan, John Stupor, and Jay Tibbs for the righthander. Gullickson was reliable while with the Reds for a two-year period. In 1986, he pitched 244 innings and had a 15-12 record with a 3.38. In 1987, he was 10-11 but his ERA shot up to 4.86 over 213 innings pitched. The Reds then traded Gullickson to the Yankees for Dennis Rasmussen. Naturally, Gullickson went to become a 20-game winner with Detroit in 1991.
Grade: B-. Gullickson wasn’t the pitcher he was in Montreal but the Reds didn’t give up much to get him.
9. Danny Jackson
The Reds traded with the Royals again in 1988 for lefthanded hurler Danny Jackson. KC received Ted Power and Kurt Stillwell in return. Jackson had been a solid starter for the Royals over five years, but he had a spectacular 1988 season for the Reds, putting together a 23-8 record, a 2.73 ERA while throwing 260 innings. If not for Orel Hershisher’s brilliant season, Jackson would have been the first Reds pitcher to win a Cy Young Award. (Think about that!) In terms of Reds history, Jackson’s 1988 performance ranks up there with Jim Maloney (1965), Bob Purkey (1962), and Joey Jay (1961.) Unfortunately, that was the high water mark for Danny. He pitched for the Reds just two more seasons but was a contributor on the 1990 World Champion Reds, starting Game 2 of the World Series. He then became a free agent and signed with the Cubs.
10. Bronson Arroyo
Many in The Nation remember Wily Mo Pena and when the Reds traded him and his five tools to Boston for Arroyo. This was a steal, especially from the perspective of Arroyo being reliable and a workhorse. He won over a hundred games with Cincinnati, was positive in the clubhouse, became a fan favorite and certainly should be in the Reds Hall of Fame down the road. Pena was finished after 8 seasons, his best years (stat-wise) being in Cincinnati.
John lives in Galesburg, Illinois and has been a Reds fan all of his life. He is a retired firefighter and a Veteran who served for 32 years but stays active at the local Humane Society. His favorite Reds players include Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, Tony Perez, Eric Davis, and Bronson Arroyo. While writing, he frequently listens to the music of Led Zeppelin and Steely Dan. He is flanked in the photo by ever-loyal “Reptar.”