Kevin Hench / FOXSports.com
Surprise, surprise, surprise, David Wells and Ken Griffey, Jr. are on the DL.
Who could possibly have seen this coming?
Apparently not the Red Sox or Reds, who made a trade in March that sent pitcher Bronson Arroyo from Boston to Cincinnati in exchange for outfielder Wily Mo Pena. The rationale was clear: The Sox had too many starting pitchers and the Reds had one too many outfielders. The deal was made, no backsies.
Yes, it's true, the Red Sox had seven potential starters in spring training. But Jonathan Papelbon became the closer, Arroyo was dealt and then the 42-year-old, left-handed tub of goo suffered the latest in a long line of injuries that might have been avoided if he had any interest in taking care of himself. (Or has Wells found a doctor to tell him that carrying 50 extra pounds is good for your back and knees?) And this is how a team that supposedly had seven starters in spring training ends up having Lenny DiNardo make a start just two weeks into the season.
The Reds are probably having a lot less trader's remorse at this point, since Arroyo (2-0, 3.86) has gotten off to a good start and Pena looks bewildered in the Boston outfield. But, that said, Cincy dealt a 24-year-old power hitter for a 29-year-old pitcher who came into the season with 33 career wins.
It's too bad Boston and Cincinnati can't borrow a page from English soccer for the next couple of months. In the Premiership, teams regularly loan players to one another with the understanding that they are still under contract to their original team while they get valuable playing time for their temporary side. Arroyo could help hold the fort in Boston for the next two months until Roger Clemens and his Brinks truck arrive this summer. (The back-to-back calamities by Wells and Matt Clement last week brought me around right quick to the notion of the Rocket returning for what must surely be the twilight we heard about 10 years ago.) Pena, meanwhile, could provide some of the missing pop while Griffey convalesces — from this injury and the inevitable one that will follow.
Wily Mo would no doubt welcome the brief respite from the year-round playoff intensity of Boston. His tape-measure shots had made him a fan favorite in Cincinnati, but his curious approach to fly balls in Boston has already made him a target of the Boston fans' derision. In his first week in right field — while Trot Nixon recovered from his own all-too-predictable groin injury — Pena dropped a Frank Catalanotto fly ball into the bullpen for a home run, misjudged a Raul Ibanez line drive into a ground-rule double and misplayed a Jose Lopez sinking liner into a triple. Is there such a thing as fielding for the cycle? Poor Wily Mo has already made so many gaffes in Fenway's expansive right field that the fans gave him a Bronx cheer on Monday when he successfully bent over and fielded a routine base hit.
Arroyo could be loaned back to Boston with the understanding that he would be flown to Cincy on short notice if the Reds were facing the Cubs' Glendon Rusch, who famously served up home runs to Arroyo in back-to-back starts. While Arroyo may not have been in Boston's long-term plans — despite the three-year, home-team-discount contract they got him to sign — the scrawny righty would certainly be a welcome sight in the short term. Over the last three seasons, right-handed batters have hit .228 against him with a .281 OBP and a .647 OPS. Boston fans could hardly be blamed for thinking about those numbers when Derek Jeter, Gary Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez are due up against DiNardo — or, heck, even Wells — next month. Starting May 1 the Sox and Yankees play 12 games in five weeks. Yikes.
Arroyo has never lost to the Yankees in six career regular-season starts. Okay, okay, he's never won either, but sometimes a six-inning no-decision is just what a team needs when it's going up against Hall of Famers' Row.
But, sadly, Arroyo won't be toeing the slab in Yankee Stadium for the Sox next month. No, he'll be pitching in increasingly inconsequential games as summer wears on and the Reds fade out of contention. Pena, meanwhile, will discover that his early baptism by fire was nothing compared to the heat of a pennant race in Boston. Assuming he continues to platoon with Nixon, Pena — and his one strikeout every 2.8 at bats — will be squaring off against Randy Johnson next month. Can you think of any other matchup less likely to produce a run with a runner on third and less than two outs? (Well, in fairness, Arroyo does strike out 58 percent of the time for his career, a stat Glendon Rusch refuses to believe.)
Don't get me wrong, I'm excited about Wily Mo. For next year. And the year after that. As for the here and now, it sure would be nice to have the hugely versatile rubber arm of Arroyo in the fold. The middle relief corps, of which Arroyo was pegged to be an indispensable member this season, looks like a looming disaster for Boston. David Riske was awful in spring training and worse in his single regular-season appearance before landing on the DL with a bad back. Rudy Seanez has been slapped around to the tune of a 10.80 ERA. The volcanic Julian Tavarez may have set some kind of record by serving a 10-day suspension before ever throwing a pitch for Boston. And now the pen's lone lefty, DiNardo, has been forced into the rotation by Wells's regularly scheduled trip to the DL.
Boy, the three-year, $12 million contract Arroyo signed before being dealt seems like a better deal than ever.
Seeing Boston's list of viable starting candidates reduced from seven to four — and that includes the increasingly perplexing Clement — in the span of less than a month inspired me to coin a new phrase. Ready? "You can never have too much pitching." I know it sounds radical — never? — but I think it might stick.