Back in Cincinnati, Ryan reflects

Orioles: With the Reds, B.J. Ryan was a prospect with an uncertain future. Six years later, he's one of the game's top closers.

June 10, 2005|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

CINCINNATI - B.J. Ryan sat in his hotel room in Cincinnati six years ago, unsure whether he was headed to the Reds' Triple-A affiliate in Indianapolis or staying with the major league club. Though he had been optioned earlier in the day, a team official revealed that an injury to another pitcher could keep him with the Reds. He still had hope, if not a permanent address.

So Ryan stuck around, watching TV and trying to relax, when his name rolled across the bottom of the screen. Viewers were informed of another trade at the non-waiver deadline. Ryan wasn't going to Indianapolis or staying in Cincinnati.

On July 31, 1999, he officially became property of the Orioles.

"I was kind of shocked, but it's just the business aspect of it," he said. "You never really know where you're going to be."

Ryan is more certain now. He's in the Orioles' bullpen as their closer, on the back end of a four-city road trip that's put him in Cincinnati for the first time since the trade.

If the memories don't come rushing back, it's because he appeared in only one game with the Reds at their old stadium, three days before the Orioles acquired him and minor league pitcher Jacobo Sequea for veteran starter Juan Guzman.

"I got to the big leagues and got shipped off right when I got there," Ryan said. "You get attached to the guys you come up with and the coaches over there who helped you out a lot. But just going back there, it's not that big a deal."

The other "deal," the one that brought Ryan to the Orioles, was a classic example of a rebuilding team looking for prospects as a playoff contender geared for the stretch run. They were a perfect match once majority owner Peter Angelos agreed to take on a significant chunk of Guzman's $5.25 million salary.

The arrangement suited both general managers, Frank Wren and Jim Bowden, who were fired later and now work for other organizations. Wren, who lasted one season with the Orioles, is the Atlanta Braves' assistant GM. Bowden is in charge of the Washington Nationals.

"We were trying to restock and get some young players," Wren said. "Jim Bowden really wanted Guzman because he felt like he was the guy who could help them get over the hump. We started talking about players and we got Ryan and Sequea because we were willing to carry some of the salary on Guzman, which was big for both of us because Bowden didn't have any money."

The Orioles' interest in Ryan matured at the All-Star break earlier in the month. Ryan was chosen to the Futures Game in Boston, and though he didn't pitch, Wren watched him throw on the side. "He had a good arm, he was aggressive and he was left-handed," Wren said. "That's a pretty good combination."

Bowden hated to part with Ryan, who has 15 saves this season, but he figured Guzman was worth the price.

"We knew he was going to be a real good pitcher, a guy that we felt down the road could be a left-handed closer," Bowden said of Ryan. "But we had a chance to win. And if we don't get another starting pitcher, we don't win. We made the deal. We got Guzman. We won."

Guzman was 5-9 with a 4.18 ERA in 21 starts with the Orioles in 1999. He made 12 starts with the Reds, going 6-3 with a 3.03 ERA.

Cincinnati's record stood at 59-43 before the trade, leaving the Reds 3 1/2 games behind the Houston Astros in the National League Central. They went 37-24 after obtaining Guzman, but didn't win the division and lost a one-game playoff to the New York Mets for the wild card.

"We don't win 96 games without Goozy," Bowden said. "He had a great second half for us. And sometimes those are the deals you have to make to win now.

"If I had to make the deal over, we're going to make it again. And if I have to give up an `A' ball pitcher this year who is going to be a good pitcher that is going to give me a piece that is going to [help us] win 96 games and maybe take us to the postseason, we are going to make the same deal.

"I had not seen [Ryan] personally, but all of our scouts really liked him. He had a great arm and we really felt, worse-case scenario, he'd be a real good setup guy with the potential to be a closer down the road. But you have to give up something to get something."

Guzman turned out to be a rental. He signed a two-year, $12.5 million contract with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays after the season, but a shoulder injury limited him to one appearance that lasted 1 2/3 innings.

Ryan reported to Triple-A Rochester after the trade and made his Orioles debut a month later in Detroit. Except for a seven-week stay with Rochester in 2000, he's been with them ever since, trusted first as a setup man and now to finish games.

So who got the better end of the deal? The Reds had nothing to show for it a year later, though they came within a victory of the playoffs. Ryan tied the club's single-season record for appearances with 76 in 2004, and he's a possible All-Star in 2005. Sequea set Double-A Bowie's single-season record for saves last year but was designated for assignment on Wednesday.

"We felt like [Guzman] was a veteran guy who more than likely wouldn't be back with us, and we could get some young players that could be foundational-type players," Wren said. "It was the right thing to do. I don't think there was anybody in the organization who felt differently."

Sun staff writer Dan Connolly contributed to this article.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Cincinnati Reds

Site, time: Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati, 7:10

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Rodrigo Lopez (4-2, 4.60) vs. Reds' Aaron Harang (4-3, 3.48)

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