Reds turn to Plan B, get Moehler

By Josh Boyd
July 23, 2002

On the same day that Kenny Rogers vetoed a trade that would have brought him to Cincinnati for three prospects, Reds general manager Jim Bowden turned around and dealt for his second veteran starter in two weeks. The Reds picked up Brian Moehler and minor league outfielder Matt Boone from the Tigers for shortstop prospect David Espinosa and two players to be named later. Detroit also will cover part of the remainder of $2.4 million salary for 2002.

The Reds are in second place in the National League Central, 4½ games behind the Cardinals, who bolstered their rotation by adding Chuck Finley four days earlier. Moehler, a 30-year-old righthander, will replace the injured Joey Hamilton in a Cincinnati rotation consisting of Elmer Dessens, Chris Reitsma, Jimmy Haynes and the recently acquired Ryan Dempster. Moehler had been a steady workhorse for Detroit from 1997-2000, averaging 193 innings per season, before tearing his labrum and rotator cuff and making just one start in 2001. After surgery, he made six rehab starts in 2002 before rejoining the Tigers and going 1-1, 2.29 in three outings. Moehler throws a sinker, cut fastball, slider and changeup, relying on location more than pure stuff. In 131 big league games, he has gone 48-52, 4.44 with 446 strikeouts in 809 innings. Moehler will be eligible for free agency after the season.

Had Rogers not turned down the opportunity to join the Reds, Espinosa would have headed to Texas along with righthander Josh Hall and outfielder Alan Moye. Drafted with the 23rd overall pick in 2000, Espinosa signed an eight-year major league contract worth a guaranteed $2.75 million, which didn’t include a signing bonus because Cincinnati was strapped for cash. After batting .262-7-37 in his pro debut for low Class A Dayton in 2001, the 20-year-old Espinosa was moved up to high Class A Stockton this year and moved from shortstop to second base. He committed 48 errors at Dayton, and the Reds also didn’t believe that his footwork and actions were a natural fit at shortstop. He has made 26 errors in 95 games at second, and some scouts believe his ultimate destination will be center field. An aggressive switch-hitter with power potential from the left side of the plate, he’s hitting .245-7-44. He has made some strides with his plate discipline, drawing 64 walks, but his 104 strikeouts point to his need to make more contact. If he can do that, he’s a potential leadoff hitter. Espinosa has good speed, though he’s still a work in progress on the bases as well, having been caught 17 times in 43 steal attempts.

Boone, 23, joins his brother, third baseman Aaron, and father, manager Bob, in Cincinnati. His brother Bret plays for the Mariners, and their grandfather Ray is a former big league all-star. Matt’s family connections are the most notable part of his baseball résumé, as he hasn’t gotten past high Class A since being drafted in the third round out of a California high school in 1997. He has moved from third base to the outfield this year, when he has hit .246-3-19 in 51 games at high Class A Lakeland.

August 30 update: The Dayton Daily News is reporting that low Class A Dayton outfielder Gary “Noochie” Varner will join the Tigers as part of the Moehler trade. Varner, 21, was a 10th-round pick in 2000 out of St. Catharine (Ky.) JC and hit .351 while repeating the Rookie-level Pioneer League in 2001. This year, he has batted .310-10-69 with 37 steals in 41 attempts and set Dragons franchise records for average, hits (160), triples (12) and steals. He was named to both the midseason and postseason all-star teams in the Midwest League. Varner’s plate discipline (32 walks, 117 strikeouts) could use some improvement, but he’s regarded as a competitive player who hits the ball where it’s pitched. His speed, arm and outfield defense are positives.

September 24 update: The deal was completed with the Tigers receiving righthander Jorge Cordova. Cordova, 24, initially was signed by the Yankees out of Venezuela in 1995. He was released and signed by the Marlins in 1997 before being dealt to the Reds for righthander Manny Aybar at the 2000 trade deadline. Cordova was moved to the bullpen at high Class A Stockton this year because he has a lively 92-94 mph fastball but not much else to go with it. He went a combined 9-2, 2.73 with 13 saves and a 59-20 strikeout-walk ratio in 53 innings this year. Cordova spent much of the season at Double-A Chattanooga and had a brief stint at Triple-A Louisville.