CINCINNATI -- When the Winter Meetings return to a familiar venue next week at Walt Disney World's Swan and Dolphin Hotel in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., it will be the same place where the Reds pulled off a coup of sorts. In 2006, Cincinnati landed a wayward former top prospect
CINCINNATI -- When the Winter Meetings return to a familiar venue next week at Walt Disney World's Swan and Dolphin Hotel in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., it will be the same place where the Reds pulled off a coup of sorts. In 2006, Cincinnati landed a wayward former top prospect named Josh Hamilton in the Rule 5 Draft.
"I'm 30 years into this stuff -- he's for sure one of the most talented high school players I ever scouted," Reds vice president of amateur scouting Chris Buckley said. "Right up there with [Alex Rodriguez] and I guess I put Hunter Greene in there too. Josh's skills were through the roof."
The No. 1 overall pick of the 1999 Draft by Tampa Bay, Hamilton's career was derailed by drug problems and numerous suspensions that had him missing multiple years while his life spun out of control. But the outfielder got clean and sought baseball redemption in the Rays' system in the 2006 season, when he played 15 games at the Class A level.
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When then Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky took a trip to the team's spring facility in Sarasota, Fla., Buckley picked Krivsky up at the airport and floated an idea.
"I said, 'All right, Buck, I'm all ears,'" Krivsky said. "He said, 'Josh Hamilton.' He had cleared waivers earlier in the year and nobody claimed him. He was in the middle of all the suspensions and couldn't play. Every club had passed on him but he was still on the [Rays'] Triple-A roster for the Rule 5 Draft."
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"We were well aware of the problems he had," Buckley said. "But you were talking about such a minimal risk. You weren't giving up anything."
Buckley, who lives in the Tampa area, saw plenty of Hamilton as a Blue Jays scout ahead of the 1999 Draft. As Hamilton did private workouts in Clearwater, Fla., during his comeback effort, Buckley was able to make the short trip and watch.
"The guy he worked out with is a close friend of mine -- Roy Silver. He was letting me know that he thought that Josh's demons were all in the past, that we should go ahead and try this," Buckley said. "The way we looked at it was, maybe this is something that can jumpstart the rebuild here."
Buckley and his scouts prepared their dossier on Hamilton, but the Reds had the 15th pick in the 2006 Rule 5 Draft. Concerns that a team with a higher pick would get Hamilton were strong.
Enter the Cubs, which had the third pick.
"[The Cubs] had let people [at the meetings] know they were willing to trade their pick," Buckley said.
The Cubs' scouting director, Tim Wilken, worked with Buckley in the Toronto organization for 16 years and was the best man in his wedding. The two spoke about the Reds acquiring the pick during a scout's gala.
"Buck and him struck a deal on a cocktail napkin," Krivsky said.
The total cost to the Reds was $100,000 -- $50,000 to make the pick and $50,000 for the Cubs, who weren't told whom the Reds would select until the very last minute before the Rule 5 Draft.
"We were real quiet about it. We didn't want people to know what we were doing," Krivsky said.
Krivsky and Buckley told owner/CEO Bob Castellini a couple of days before the Rule 5 Draft and received his approval after a review of the information. On Draft morning that Thursday, Buckley handed Wilken the piece of paper with the name the Reds wanted Chicago to select: Josh Hamilton.
"He said, 'No guts, no glory," Buckley recalled Wilken saying.
The Cubs called Hamilton's name, which caused a stir in the room. But they traded him to the Reds for cash, as promised, once the Draft ended. Cincinnati also took reliever Jared Burton the same day. Both players would remain in the big leagues with Cincinnati for the entire 2007 season.
A few weeks after the Draft, Hamilton wanted to be in Sarasota early to get situated for Spring Training. Buckley went over to watch a workout, where Hamilton was hitting balls out of sight, and clearing the batter's eye.
"The workout is over and Buckley called me back and said, 'Hey Wayne, I just saw Herman Munster take batting practice!"' Krivsky remembered while laughing.
In 90 games for the Reds, Hamilton batted .292/.368/.554 with 17 home runs and 47 RBIs and became an instant fan favorite. But he also spent two stints on the disabled list and although Hamilton stayed clear of drug relapses, the abuse his body took had the Reds worried about durability.
On Dec. 21, 2007, the Reds traded Hamilton to the Rangers for starting pitcher Edinson Volquez and lefty reliever Daniel Herrera. Volquez was a 17-game winner and All-Star in 2008 while Hamilton went on to a superstar career with Texas and won the 2010 American League Most Valuable Player Award.
"There were some concerns there [as to] whether [Hamilton] would be able to hold up for a full season. It wasn't drug-related, but it was his knees, the shoulder, the back. We didn't go into the winter all looking to trade him. But we needed pitching so bad and the only way I would trade him was if somebody offered up a young starting pitcher with high upside that you could control [for] five or six years. Texas was aggressive. They hesitated for a long time before they freed up Volquez."
Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.