Monday, March 20, 2006

Red Sox Trade Arroyo for Pena, Give Juan Gonzalez a Minor-League Deal.


The Red Sox made a couple of interesting moves today and on Sunday. The first was today's trade of lanky right-handed pitcher Bronson Arroyo to the Cincinnati Reds for slugging outfield prospect Wily Mo Pena. ESPN.com excerpt:

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Boston Red Sox traded pitcher Bronson Arroyo on Monday to the Cincinnati Reds for outfielder Wily Mo Pena.

Arroyo was 14-10 with a 4.51 ERA last season. The right-hander was part of a deep group of Red Sox starters and had taken a home-team discount when he signed a three-year contract worth $11.25 million on Jan. 19.

Pena, who can't be a free agent until after the 2008 season, batted .254 with 19 homers and 51 RBI last season and struck out 116 times with 20 walks. A 24-year-old right-handed hitter, he could play right field instead of lefty Trot Nixon when left-handers pitch against Boston.

Without the 29-year-old Arroyo, Boston still has Curt Schilling, Tim Wakefield, Josh Beckett, Matt Clement, David Wells and Jonathan Papelbon
as starters. Arroyo, who pitched five shutout innings Sunday after struggling in his first three exhibition appearances, was expected to start the season in the Boston's bullpen.

Arroyo had career highs last year with 14 wins, 32 starts and 205 1/3 innings pitched. "Because we have depth, we might not have been able to get enough out of him" this season, Boston manager Terry Francona said, "and that's not a knock on him."

In the past four seasons, Pena batted .248 with 51 homers and 134 RBI with the Reds. Pena played for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic and had four singles in 10 at-bats in three games.

"He's 24 years old. He's just a baby," said Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, who played with Pena on the Dominican team. "You know this game. It's a learning process."

Pena said he was surprised by the deal. He is still considered a raw talent but has outstanding power. "Players with this kind of power usually develop a better walk rate as they go forward into their mid- to late-20s," Epstein said.

Arroyo had better run support last year than he did in 2004 when he was 10-9, but I see some signs for potential alarm based on his 2005 performance. One, he pitched 26 more innings in 2005 than in 2004 (205 to 179), but struck out 42 fewer batters (100 to 142). That is not a good sign. That leads us to the Number Two warning sign. Arroyo's ERA increased by nearly half a run per nine innings (4.03 to 4.51). Again, not a good sign.

Arroyo has a decent fastball that he needs to use more often, as he did in yesterday's strong outing against AL East rival Baltimore. Last season, I saw a tendency in Arroyo to rely too heavily on his sweeping breaking ball, and when he fell behind and had to come in with the fastball it seemed more like a "get me over the plate" pitch than something with which to bury hitters. He'll have to improve on this tendency because he'll be pitching his 2006 home games in The Great American Ballpark, an even more hitter-friendly environment than Fenway. Anyway, Terry Francona now has one fewer starting pitcher in that crowded field about whom to worry. Good luck to you Bronson.

On the other side of the equation, Pena is indeed, a raw talent with a ton of power. I'm not sure how cutting his playing time in half will help him develop the way Epstein describes. The Sox starting OF is Manny Ramirez in LF, Coco Crisp in CF and Trot Nixon in RF. In camp are OFs Dustan Mohr, a gritty player who has been killing the ball this spring, Adam Stern, the Rule V kid from the Braves system who is now healthy, and who is also killing the ball. Utility man Willie Harris can play second base and all three outfield positions and is more noted for his speed, so he will figure into the mix somewhere.

So where does that leave Pena? As a right-handed hitter, he is a logical choice to play against lefties, allowing Nixon, who does not hit lefties well, to rest against them. But then isn't that what Mohr is for? I'm a bit confused by this deal. I wonder if Nixon, who signed a deal similar to Arroyo's a couple of years ago, is going to be dealt next, thereby giving Pena the starting RF job. Time will tell.

Or will it? On Sunday, the Red Sox announced the signing of former two-time AL MVP Juan Gonzalez to a minor-league deal. ESPN.com excerpt:

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Juan Gonzalez, limited to one at-bat last season, agreed to a minor-league contract with the Boston Red Sox on Sunday. The Red Sox hope the 36-year-old, oft-injured outfielder can bounce back and show the form he displayed when he had three 140-RBI seasons.

Gonzalez was expected to join the Red Sox for Tuesday's home game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He has 434 homers, 1,404 RBI and a .295 batting average in 17 major-league seasons. Boston has few available roster spots but the right-handed hitting Gonzalez could spell lefty-hitting Trot Nixon in right field. First, Gonzalez must come back from a torn hamstring that ruined his 2005 season. He was injured on June 1 during his only at-bat with Cleveland. The Indians didn't offer him salary arbitration this winter.

Hmmm, didn't the Sox pick up Pena to spell Nixon? Then again, I'm sure Mohr had that same impression when they signed HIM. This move could, in theory, help the Sox, but how healthy is Gonzalez? He was a hell of a hitter when he was with the Rangers, an RBI machine like Manny. Unfortunately, he has had a very hard time staying healthy in recent seasons, which makes this deal a HUGE question mark.

It is too much to ask that Gonzalez, who looks eerily like the late Thin Lizzy frontman Philip Lynott, to regain the form he had in his 1996 and 1998 MVP seasons. This could be an Orlando Cepeda/Andre Dawson type of signing, the type of deal the Sox could almost never resist: An aging slugger with right-handed pop to take aim at the Green Monster, only to show brief glimpses of what he once was after donning a Sox uniform. I wish him luck, not only in his hamstring rehab, but in a quest for playing time. Terry Francona has a LOT of decisions to make. Full story links below.

Arroyo-Pena Trade

Juan Gonzalez Signing

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