Judging Jim Bowden: Reviewing the Reds' Biggest Trades of Bowden's Tenure

Farid RushdiAnalyst IJanuary 16, 2009

Ever wonder how Jim Bowden became the (then) youngest general manager in baseball history when he took over the Reds at age 31? You'll find the surprise answer at the end of this article.

From Oct. 16, 1992, when Marge Schott named him Cincinnati's general manager, to July 26, 2003, when he was fired by the Reds, Jim Bowden made 101 trades in 10 seasons, an average of 10 a year.

Known to the baaseball world as "Trader Jim," did all those trades make a real difference for the Cincinnati Reds?

Let's find out.

Many of those trades sent prospects to another club in return for prospects, none of whom made an impact with either club. The vast majority of his trades were of this type.

We'll look at the "name" trades that Bowden made.

1) Nov. 3, 1992: Paul O'Neill and Joe DeBerry sent to the Reds for Roberto Kelly

Roberto Kelly had just come off a .272-10-66 season for the Yankees, and Paul O'Neill had hit 95 homers over four seasons with the Reds. O'Neill went on to be an integral part of the Yankees' championship run, and Roberto Kelly bounced around the major leagues until retiring in 2000.

Net result: Loss

2) Nov. 17, 1992: Norm Charlton sent to the Mariners for Kevin Mitchell

Charlton had saved 26 games with the Reds in 1992, and Mitchell had an off year with the Mariners after coming to Seattle from the Giants the previous season. Charlton was a very "iffy" reliever for the Mariners during the mid 1990s, while Mitchell batted .341 and .326 with a combined 49 homers in his two years with Cincinnati.

Net result: Solid gain

3) Nov. 2, 1993: Bobby Ayala and Dan Wilson sent to the Mariners for Bret Boone and Erik Hanson

Wilson became the starting catcher for the Mariners for more than a decade, and Ayala was one of the few credible relief pitchers that the Mariners had in the 1990s. Hanson played one uninspired year with the Reds, and Boone showed traces of brilliance but was traded to the Braves for Denny Neagle before fully blossoming. Neagle started just 38 games for the Reds before being traded to the Yankees.

Net result: Big loss

4) May 11, 1995: C.J. Nitkowski, David Tutle, and Mark Lewis traded to the Tigers for David Wells

Nitkowski is still bouncing around the league...Mark Lewis had a few "low-level" productive years in the major leagues. David Wells won six games for the Reds before being traded again

Net result: Small gain

5) Dec. 26, 1995: David Wells traded to the Orioles for Curtis Goodwin and Trovin Valdez

Wells went on to become one of baseball's best pitchers, and Goodwin became a seldom-used backup outfielder. Valdez never made it to the major leagues.

Net result: Huge loss

6) May 27, 1997: Chuck McElroy traded to the Angels for Lee Smith

McElroy never did much in the major leagues, either before or after the trade. Smith was at the end of his career and didn't help the Reds at all. He retired two years later.

Net result: Even

7) March 30, 1998: Dave Burba traded to the Indians for Sean Casey

Casey has been a starting first baseman since the trade (also playing for the Pirates, Tigers, and Red Sox), and Burba won 56 games over the next four seasons with the Indians and the Rangers.

Net result: Even

8) July 4, 1998: Jeff Shaw traded to the Dodgers for Paul Konerko and Dennys Reyes

Shaw was an average middle reliever for the Dodgers until his retirement in 2001...Reyes is still in the league today as a borderline reliever. Konerko was traded before making an impact in the league.

Net result: Gain

9) Nov. 10, 1998: Bret Boone and Mike Remlinger traded to the Braves for Denny Neagle, Rob Bell, and Michael Tucker

Neagle has not had a quality season since the trade...Rob Bell has a career ERA near 6.00. Tucker did a good job for the Reds as a platoon right fielder. Remlinger has been a "stud" reliever for several teams since the trade, and Bret Boone became one of the best second basemen in the league.

Net result: Big loss

10) Nov. 11, 1998: Paul Konerko traded to the White Sox for Mike Cameron

Cameron has had some decent years in the major leagues, but his bat has never quite caught up to his outstanding glove. Konerko is today one of the best slugging first basemen in all of baseball (though he had an off season in 2008).

Net result: Loss

11) Feb. 2, 1999: Reggie Sanders, Damian Jackson, and Josh Harris traded to the Padres for Greg Vaughn and Mark Sweeney

Vaughn hit 45 homers for the Reds before signing with the Devil Rays...Mark Sweeney has been a utility player during his career. Reggie Sanders has battled injuries during his career but is still producing in the major leagues. Jackson has been out of baseball since 2006, and Harris never made it to the major leagues.

Net result: Gain

12) Feb. 10, 2000: Brett Tomko, Mike Cameron, Antonio Perez, and Jake Meyer to the Mariners for Ken Griffey Jr.

The "mother" of all trades—Griffey has never been healthy during his years with the Reds. Tomko continues to pitch in the major leagues, but barely. Cameron did well with the Mariners before signing a free agent contract with the Mets. Perez and Meyer have yet to make an impact in the "bigs."

Net result: Huge loss

13) March 21, 2001: Drew Henson and Michael Coleman traded to the Yankees for Wily Mo Pena

Henson left for the NFL, and Coleman had a "cup of coffee" or two with the Red Sox. Pena had several productive years with the Reds.

Net result: Gain

So, out of 101 trades, there were only 13 that had any real impact on either the Reds or the team Bowden traded with. The great majority of his trades were of the "Cary Ammons for Donnie Sadler" variety.

Looking back over his 10+ seasons as the Reds' general manager, it becomes apparent that he really didn't have much of an impact.

None of the transactions won the team a pennant they otherwise wouldn't have won, and none of the transactions buried the Reds for a few seasons until they could recover.

I guess it goes back to the old saying: "It's the quality and not the quantity that counts."

Jim Bowden's college roommate was none other than Squire Galbreath, the son of Pirates' owner Dan Galbreath. He got his first job with the Pirates in their media relations department at age 24. He was then transferred to the baseball operations side as an assistant to GM Syd Thrift. Bowden made a name for himself by computerizing the Pirates' scouting and minor league systems.

To be sure, he earned his first general manager's job, but he'd likely still be in media relations somewhere else had he been paired with a different roommate in college.

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