2017 Reds

From “OC” to Bronson: a history of Reds pitching trades

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.

Grade: F

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.

Grade: F

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.

Grade: A

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.

Grade: A

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.

Grade: A

20 thoughts on “From “OC” to Bronson: a history of Reds pitching trades

  1. An interesting synopsis of Reds pitching history. With the improvement in the Reds farm system, especially in young pitching, I agree the acquisition by trade of a good veteran starting pitcher should be primary in the offseason.

  2. Really loved this article. Helps us younger fans look back on trades of the past that we wouldn’t have otherwise known about. Would have liked to see some more stats than just wins and ERA though.

  3. I actually disagree with the initial premise that everyone knows that the Reds need to add to their rotation. I don’t actually know that or agree with it. I actually see at least 8 if not more legitimate options to try in the rotation. Bailey, Disco, Finnegan, Castillo, Stephenson, Romano, Mahle, and Lorenzen make a good starting point. Beyond that Garrett, Reed, and Stephens should be given opportunities to redeem their rotation status. I understand it’s foolish to expect health from the three vets, but it’s probably just as unlikely that none of them are ready to contribute throughout the year. I get the desire to want to hedge your bets against injuries, especially with recent history. But to say it’s an obvious need that everyone sees isn’t accurate and does discount some of the pitchers we have on hand.

    • I agree Hotto. If anything, the Reds MIGHT need a starter for 2019, but only after they finish sorting through the 10 or 11 in- house options and prospects, all of whom are potentially very good, and then only if no one emerges as a true stopper. In this offseason I’m hoping the priorities will be moving Hamilton, Peraza, and probably Duvall, and upgrading CF and SS (though the latter may consist of resigning Cozart).

  4. Interesting read. It is worth noting that most of the pitchers in the trades mentioned above only had 1 or 2 years of success with the Reds (Jim Merritt, Bill Gullickson, Danny Jackson) while a couple were busts (Roger Nelson, Woodie Fryman). Only 3 had sustained success over multiple years: Fred Norman (7), Tom Seaver (4 – 1/2) and Bronson Arroyo (8)

    I think 3 other trades worth mentioning:

    1987 – Dave Parker whose career was rejuvenated in Cincinnati and he helped the Reds back to contention after the disastrous years of 1982, 1983. He was traded to Oakland for a hot prospect name Jose Rijo. Jose ended up with 6 great years for the Reds and obviously instrumental in the 1990 WS team.

    2003 – Jose Guillen (.337 batting average, 23 HR in 91 games played) to Oakland for Aaron Harang who had 4 very good years and 2 serviceable (innings eater) years. Unfortunately, arm troubles derailed a more lengthy productive career for him.

    2007 – Josh Hamilton for Edison Volquez. Hamilton went on to have 5 All-star seasons for the Rangers. Volquez had a great 1st year for the Reds then had injuries issues. He was sent with others to San Diego for Mat Latos who was a major factor in the 2012 playoff team.

    • Isn’t it interesting that of the 3 you mention as being successful 2 didn’t have the over powering stuff, just knew how to pitch. Now all we want is someone who can throw 100 mph.

    • Fantastic supplement!

      We could also throw in the Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Edinson Volquez, and Brad Boxberger for Mat Latos trade. This was an example of why trades are sometimes so hard to judge, even in retrospect. I think the Reds ended up getting exactly what the wanted/needed at the time. A #2 young and cost-controlled starter to help push them into contention. And Latos did just that over the 2012-2013 seasons. Notably, he jumped into the rescued when Cueto went down in Game 1 of the 2012 NLDS.

      Of course, the Reds payed a steep price. All 4 guys they traded ended up being major leaguers and 2 were All Stars. Not that the Padres benefited from their services. But it’s also fair to note that Alonso and Grandal were effectively blocked with no obvious alternative spots to play them for years to come. Eddy Volq had an up and down career afterwards, including winning a WS with the Royals. But he really had no place in the Reds starting rotation. Aside from his AS year in 2014, Boxberger has just been ok. Though the Reds could have certainly used his services the last couple of years.

      Interestingly, FG did a look-back analysis of this trade a couple of years ago. The TLDR version is that the Padres came out slightly ahead but for convoluted (and perhaps dubious) reasons.

  5. John, your beautiful, impeccable sense of history is always a true joy to read. Thank you so much.

  6. Thanks John. Love the article. I had forgotten about Fred Norman. You are right about the Perez for Fryman & Murray trade, Grade F maybe F-.

  7. What about the Ryan Madsen deal? I forget what we gave up to get him but I don’t remember him ever throwing a meaningful inning while in a Reds uniform.

    Not to harp on the negatives, but that trade also has to be one of the biggest busts in recent memory.

    • Madson was signed as a FA to a 1 year/$8MM contract, if I recall correctly, just before spring training after his market just collapsed. An injury (TJ?) in his 1st or 2nd appearance ended his career with the Reds. I think it took him almost 3 years to come back and pitch again.

  8. I’ll add Aaron Harang to the list. The Reds acquired him for Jose Guillen and he was the Reds best starter for a few years. That was a very nice trade.

  9. I think the fans in Cincinnati would love to see the Reds and Bengals put together a season and win a World Series or win a Superbowl for Cincinnati I think the fans deserve it I haven’t seen the Reds won a World Series and years in the Bengals neither go Reds go Bengals I hope the Reds can do something this year I’m tired of looking at them and losing every year it’s terrible go Cincinnati

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