No Love for Wily Mo
Pawtucket Red Sox RHP Clay Buchholz is getting the call-up to start the second game of a day-night doubleheader against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. It was unclear whether he would get the nod for his major league debut or if Julian Tavarez would make another spot start. Buchholz's call-up comes at the expense of troubled outfielder Wily Mo Pena.
Pena is in his second year as a member of the Red Sox, acquired in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds for RHP Bronson Arroyo. When the fan favorite Arroyo jumped to a good start last year, the grumblings about Pena began, and while Arroyo is currently boasting a 5-13 record for the Reds this year, the angst has yet to subside.
Pena batted .301 and slugged .489 in 276 at-bats last year, just under half of a full season. His power numbers would have been around 30 doubles, 25 home runs and 90 RBIs if Pena had started 150 games. These numbers would have elevated him into much greater esteem for many Bostonians who couldn't fathom the give-up-a-good-arm-for-a-backup-out
fielder trade. (Bear in mind that Kevin Youkilis, beloved by all of Boston, batted .279, slugged .458 and hit 12 home runs and 63 RBIs in 147 games last year. Yes, Youkilis has been irreplaceable this season, but he has been an everyday player for two seasons now.)
I have been a believer in Pena from the day he arrived. General Manager Theo Epstein and Manager Terry Francona were plainly clearing out the "Cowboy-Up" image when they traded Arroyo, having also gotten rid of players like Kevin Millar and Johnny Damon. I had seen the tremendous raw power that he had and then the good all-around hitter he showed he could be last year.
Pena's playing time benefited from injuries to both Coco Crisp and Trot Nixon and the absence of Manny Ramirez last September. It is no surprise that the Red Sox are in first place this year with all three of their outfielders are playing everyday and third place last year.
At the beginning of the year, the Red Sox had no second baseman. Francona insisted that he was absolutely fine using Alex Cora, and considering his production thus far it seems he was right. However, Dustin Pedroia was given the job. When I say "given," I mean that literally. Francona told him he was the starter and he needed to go out and learn how to play second base. As it turns out, he is a fantastic learner as he boasts the third highest fielding percentage among A.L. second baseman and the sixth highest batting average in the league.
The Red Sox did not, however, have that option for Pena. Manny is finishing his career in Boston, and Crisp is a Gold Glove caliber fielder and his hitting is coming around. And, in what seems like more and more of the worst acquisition this season, J.D. Drew's five year, $70 million contract is going to take a while before the Red Sox move him, and move him they will. But, they couldn't, as they should have, given Pena the starting job in right field. I will agree that his fielding leaves much to be desired, but he is not becoming a better fielder on the bench.
Epstein does a great job of recognizing pitching talent. All of his pitching moves, acquiring Curt Schilling, Eric Gagne, Daisuke Matsuzka, Hideki Okajima, getting rid of Arroyo, Pedro Martinez, David Wells, and protecting Jon Lester, Buchholz and Justin Masterson have all panned out well. And we all know pitching wins championships (tell that to the San Diego Padres). However, as good as Epstein judges pitching, it seems he has a blind spot for offense.
You could make an All-Star team made up of just ex-Red Sox shortstops. Hanley Ramirez, last year's N.L. rookie of the year winner, is leading the league with a .341 BA. Orlando Cabrera is batting .308 and playing flawless defense. Freddy Sanchez, a Pawtucket product, led the N.L. last year with a .344 batting average. And, for good measure, Edgar Renteria is smoking N.L. pitching with a .336 BA and has returned to his Gold Glove form. And those are just the shortstops!
So while all of this and more is happening, we have Julio Lugo, whose near .400 BA since the all-star break has raised his average to a still embarrassing .236. Throw in Drew, Doug Mirabelli and Eric Hinske and the Red Sox will have the record for most times grounding out to second base in no time!
Epstein has a chance to do the right thing now which is ignore the fans. When the fans booed Josh Bard off of the field when he couldn't catch a knuckleball, he needed to trade Tim Wakefield, not bring back Mirabelli. Wakefield is having a good year, but there is no way you would trade to have Wakefield just so Mirabelli can have someone to catch. It should have worked the other way too.
Epstein knows the talent that Pena has, otherwise he would have got someone else for Arroyo. Believe me, Pena is a .290 to .300 hitter and he will hit 40 home runs within the next two full seasons. It's not about hitting curveballs or shagging fly balls in right field, it's about Epstein using his gift of a great baseball mind and realizing that Red Sox fans need to bite their tongues about Pena. Whether or not they will admit it, Red Sox fans would rather watch Pena struggle in a pinch-hitting and spot-starting role now than watch him hit 40 home runs two years from now with a team that needs outfielders (i.e. Yankees).
If Pena is traded or released this summer before he gets chance to play everyday with the Red Sox, it will be a shame that someone with his talent and ability who wants to be here has to give up his roster spot so we can hold on to Lugo, Hinske, Mirabelli and Drew, to name a few.