Obviously there’s been much discussion about whether Josh Hamilton should’ve been traded away to Texas. But do you ever think about other guys you wouldn’t mind having back in a Reds uniform (even if they really stunk when they WERE Reds like Ryan Dempster did). Here’s my Top 12 ACTIVE players who have thrived to some extent since the Reds turned them loose. Feel free to agree or disagree and/or add anyone we omitted in the comments section. (Disclaimer: I’m not saying I’d want Paul Konerko instead of Votto at first base right now … duh. I just enjoy keeping track – in case you couldn’t tell by the RedsFest appearance wishlist post – of what guys go on to do when they leave Cincinnati. It’s fun for me for reasons I can’t explain. Disclaimer No. 2: I didn’t include guys like Jeremy Sowers, John Axford and Jake Arrieta, who were drafted by the Reds, but did not sign.) And no, Adam Dunn is not going to make this list, just because. Because his average isn’t THAT much better with the Nationals and he still strikes out a TON (a career-high 199 in 2010).
12. Matt Belisle, RP. Lousy for the Reds in 2008 (1-4, 7.28) and not much better for the Rockies in 2009 (3-1, 5.52) but he had a very nice 2010 campaign, finishing 7-5 with a 2.93 ERA in 76 relief appearances. With 91 Ks in 92 innings, by the way. And 8.9 Ks/9 is by far the best of his career.
11. Jorge Cantu, IF. Up until just recently, I’ve been outspoken about being Mr. Why-on-Earth-did-we-release-Jorge-Cantu? .277/29/95 as a full-time player with the Marlins in 2008, followed by .289/16/100 in 2009. He did cool off in 2010, hitting .262 with 10 and 54 before the Fish dealt him to Texas for a couple of minor-leaguers, making him a bench guy. But he’s still only 28 and I still think he could’ve been at least invited to Spring Training after he went 17-for-57 (.298) in his limited action as a Red in 2007.
10. Dennys Reyes, RP. OK, so there are 9 other teams who could play the “I-can’t-believe-we-let-Dennys-Reyes-get-away” game too. But do you know where he spent the longest stretch (4 years) of his 14-season big-league career? Right here in Cincinnati. Did you know he was only 21 when the Reds acquired him – along with Paul Konerko (more on him later) – for Jeff Shaw. Did you know he’s still only 33?! OK, one more did you know … the guy has made 50+ appearances in each of the past five seasons. The ERAs he’s posted in those seasons? 0.89, 3.99, 2.33, 3.29 and 3.55. Money.
9. Zach Stewart, SP. If you were like me, you were more worried about the two young arms (Stewart and Josh Roenicke) who went to Toronto with Edwin Encarnacion for Scott Rolen than you were about EE himself. And at this point, would you take back that trade just because a 23-year-old Stewart went 8-3 with a 3.63 ERA in 26 starts for the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats this past season? Absolutely not. It’s just not a bad idea to keep tabs on guys like this (along with Brandon Waring, Justin Turner, Jeff Stevens, et al.) for later on when they maybe get promoted and do something.
8. Jeremy Affeldt, RP. As a Red, he was 1-1 with a 3.33 ERA in 78 1/3 innings in 2008. He parlayed the season into a nice deal with the Giants. In San Francisco, his 2010 campaign (4-3, 4.14) wasn’t quite as strong as his 2009 (2-2, 1.73), but he battled injury and the Giants obviously think highly enough of him that he made five postseason appearances during the team’s recent World Series title run.
7. Jeff Keppinger, IF. C’mon. Keppinger? Really? Is that the best you can do? No, but he makes the list. Keppinger actually established career bests in 2010 with 514 at-bats, 62 runs, 148 hits, 34 doubles, 59 RBIs. And you’ve got to give the guy credit: In his first full season as an everyday player, he hit .288. That’s nothing to sneeze at. And you’ve got to love a guy who walks more than he whiffs. Keppinger had 51 walks in 2010, and only 36 strikeouts.
6. B.J. Ryan, RP. Ryan has had a rough past couple of years. He had a 6.53 ERA in 20 2/3 innings in 2009, was released by the Blue Jays in July of 2009, was signed by the Cubs 10 days later and released by the Cubs a couple of weeks after that. But he’s still 33 I’m not aware of any formal retirement announcement (though he did ask the Cubs for his unconditional release). And it’s tough to ignore those years when he was an outstanding relief pitcher – 2003: 3.40 ERA in 50 1/3 innings; 2004: 2.28 ERA in 87 innings; 2005: 2.43 ERA with 36 saves in 70 1/3 innings; 2006: 1.37 ERA with 38 saves in 72 1/3 innings; and 2008: 2.95 ERA with 32 saves in 58 innings – knowing that the Reds drafted him in the 17th round of the 1998 June draft and traded him a year later for Juan Guzman (an integral part, mind you, of the Reds’ strong 1999 campaign).
5. Paul Konerko, 1B/DH. You might cringe a little when you see what this guy has done since the Reds traded away a 22-year-old Konerko for Mike Cameron in 1998. (Yes, we realize Cameron was a big part of bringing Junior here just 13 months later.) With the exception of down years in 2003 (.234/18/65), 2007 (.259/31/90 – actually a down year for him) and 2008 (.240/22/62), he’s kind of been a beast. And he bounced back from the worst year – 2003 – with .277/41/117 in 2004. It looked like his power and average were taking a turn for the worse as he got further into his 30s … until this year. .312/39/111 in 2010. Right up there for the best year of his impressive career so far (.584 slugging and .977 OPS were career bests).
3 (tie). Ryan Dempster, SP. Sure, the guy is 102-102 with a 4.37 ERA over 13 big-league seasons. How could we possibly miss him that much. But in 7 seasons with the Cubs since Dempster was released by the Reds in 2003 (after a miserable ’03 season in which he went 3-7 with a 6.54 ERA and a disgusting 1.76 WHIP), he’s 52-47 with a 3.67 ERA and 87 saves. He had his ups and downs as a closer for the team, but look at Dempster as a starter for the Cubs. 2008: 17-6, 2.96. 2009: 11-9, 3.65. 2010: 15-12, 3.85 (with 208 Ks in 215 innings). That’s three consecutive seasons of 200+ innings with an ERA under 4 (and one under 3). You think Arroyo has been solid for the past three seasons? Dempster’s numbers have actually been better.
3 (tie). Ryan Franklin, RP. Are there more feared closers in the game? Sure. But ever since 2007, when Franklin posted a 3.04 ERA in 69 appearances in his first year with the Cardinals, they’ve felt pretty good about what he’s done. 3.55 ERA in 74 relief appearances in 2008, 1.92 ERA in 62 appearances as an All-Star in 2009 and 3.46 ERA in 59 games in 2010. And 83 saves along the way. The consolation: At 37, he’s no spring chicken anymore. The dagger: He’s got more saves (9) against the Reds than any other team.
2. Hamilton, OF. As a Red: Hit .292 with 19 homers and 47 RBIs in 298 at-bats in 2007. Only time will tell whether it was a good idea to give up Hamilton for Daniel Ray Herrera and Edinson Volquez, but right now it’s not looking great. No offense to Volquez, but Hamilton appears to be an elite talent. A league-leading .359, with 32 HRs and 100 RBIs in 518 at-bats during the regular season. He also led the AL in slugging percentage (.633) and OPS (1.044). Oh, and he still only made $3.25 million. No offense to Jonny Gomes, but imagine an outfield of Hamilton, Stubbs and Bruce. The consolation: He’s still a little streaky. In the ALDS, Hamilton was 2-for-18 (.111) with 2 walks, 6 strikeouts and a stolen base (though – in his defense – he missed most of September with bruised ribs). In the ALCS against the Yankees, he was 7-for-20 (.350) with 4 homers, 8 walks, 7 RBIs and 3 stolen bases. And in the World Series, he was 2-for-20 (.100) with a homer.
1. Trevor Hoffman, RP. “That’s history, Fletch.” Yeah, we know, he didn’t even pitch when he was a Reds minor leaguer – he played shortstop. But there’s no forgetting that the guy who would go on to become MLB’s all-time saves leader was an 11th round pick of the Reds in the 1989 draft who was made available to the Marlins in the 1992 expansion draft. Whoops.
Also receiving votes: Jose Guillen has put together a couple of decent seasons since the Reds dealt him to Oakland for Harang and two others in the middle of an outstanding 2003 campaign (Guillen was .337/23/63 in 315 at-bats at the time of the trade), but he’s struggled for the most part in the batting average category. Same with one-trick ponies Russell Branyan and the aforementioned Mike Cameron. Elmer Dessens, who followed up a decent 2009 (3.31 ERA in 28 appearances) with a solid 2010 (2.30 ERA in 53 relief appearances for the Mets) at age 39. Alex Gonzalez hit .250 with 23 homers and 88 RBIs between two teams in 2010. I mentioned Cody Ross here but really he wasn’t a Red long enough to really worry about it. And depending on how 2011 goes we could maybe sub out Belisle for Todd Coffey, we’ll see. (And we’ll keep an eye on guys like Chris Denorfia and Darnell McDonald and Adam Rosales to see what they might do over an entire season, and Craig Tatum and Pedro Viola to a lesser extent.)
C’mon, I know I’m forgetting someone. Bring it! But you’d better check ’em before you head this way with William Bergolla, Chris Dickerson, Jerry Jr., Kyle Lohse (’08 is looking like a one-hit wonder) Felipe Lopez, Corey Patterson, Wily Mo, David Ross, Kirk Saarloos, Willy Taveras or Ryan Wagner, cuz we’ll send it back.