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Red Sox make powerful move

They get slugger Pena for Arroyo

Wily Mo Pena's 'silly power' made the deal an attractive one for General Manager Theo Epstein and the Red Sox.
Wily Mo Pena's "silly power" made the deal an attractive one for General Manager Theo Epstein and the Red Sox. (AP Photo)

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Someone had to go, either the aging and bellicose lefthander, the talented but unpredictable righthander, or the versatile righty with the Rockette leg-kick and Eddie Vedder vocals.

Yesterday, the Red Sox opted to hold on to David Wells and Matt Clement, and instead deal Bronson Arroyo, to the Cincinnati Reds for slugging outfielder Wily Mo Pena, the 24-year-old, 245-pound Dominican so strong that Mike Easler, a former Reds hitting coach, once said he looked as if he'd been ''touched by God."

The Sox will pay the $750,000 signing bonus on the three-year, $11.25 million contract Arroyo signed this offseason and will send another $1.5 million in cash to the Reds. That figure represents the difference between Arroyo's 2006 salary ($2.75 million) and Pena's ($1.25 million).

Though the Sox indicated they'd also talked with Cincinnati about Austin Kearns (.240, 18 homers, 67 RBIs in '05), Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky said ''they were basically on Pena the whole time." Krivsky said the deal was done ''handshake by long distance" Sunday night and approved by the commissioner's office yesterday morning.

''It was a tough decision, in that there were pluses and minuses," said Sox GM Theo Epstein, ''but this was something we all felt we should do."

The pluses: The righthanded-hitting Pena brings what Epstein called ''silly power" (he has homered 45 times in only 647 at-bats over the past two seasons). Despite his bulkiness, he possesses an above-average arm and above-average speed, according to the scouting measures the Sox employ. He's only 24, comes cheap this year, and doesn't become a free agent until after the 2008 season. A .248 career hitter, he has hit .272 with 19 homers in only 257 career at-bats vs. lefthanded pitchers, suggesting he can provide considerable pop on days when he spells Trot Nixon. And he also gives the Sox a possible -- perhaps even likely -- successor to Nixon, who's entering the final year of a three-year contract.

''We think he makes sense now and for the future," said Epstein, who would not directly address how this move could affect Nixon. ''Our farm system is really starting to come around, but we don't have a lot of power. He just turned 24 last month, and he has as much power as anyone in the big leagues."

Another plus: Pena, despite his size, can play center field.

''In fact," Epstein said, ''there are some scouts who think he's better in center than in the corners. That's unusual for guys that size, but he's a physical freak, with some of the things he can do. He's not the type of athlete who comes around all the time."

But he's also raw, both at the plate and in the field. He struck out 116 times in 311 at-bats last year. Epstein acknowledged, ''He's going to strike out a lot. He strikes out on a rate basis more than anyone else in the big leagues. That's something we have to be patient with."

Pena has played nearly as many games in center (97) as he has in right (116), and though he has the tools to man either position, Fenway could be a learning experience. Last June, in interleague play vs. the Reds, Manny Ramirez hit a ball down the line in right that popped out of Pena's glove into the stands for a home run as Pena fell and bit some dust.

''He has to translate great physical tools -- run, throw -- into skills," Epstein said.

Arroyo, meanwhile, is expected to be slotted behind Eric Milton as the No. 2 starter for the Reds, which should indicate how much Cincinnati needed starting pitching. In Boston, he wouldn't have cracked the rotation, which manager Terry Francona acknowledged yesterday.

''Bronson was such a safety net, which is not bad," Francona said. ''But would we have gotten the most out of him? Probably not.

''We would have had to put Bronson in the bullpen. That's kind of what Theo was talking about [Sunday]. He said, 'A trade like this might go away if Bronson gets in a role where he's not pitching as much.' "

Arroyo, in 11 2/3 innings this spring, gave up 13 runs on 17 hits, though that included five shutout innings Sunday vs. Baltimore.

Krivsky spoke with Arroyo yesterday and said, ''He's shocked. It probably caught him off-guard. He has real strong feelings for the Boston area, but we hope when he comes here, he'll see how much everybody here wants him."

Efforts to reach Arroyo for comment yesterday were unsuccessful.

Arroyo, 29, leaves a place where he became a bona fide major league pitcher and a budding rock star. After he went 9-14 with a 5.44 ERA in three seasons with the Pirates, the Sox paid the $25,000 waiver claim fee on Arroyo Feb. 4, 2002. For that, they got 73 appearances, including 61 starts (a number that matched his Sox uniform number), a 24-19 record, and a 4.19 ERA. Last year he went 14-10 with a 4.51 ERA and led the Sox in quality starts with 20.

He parlayed that into the three-year, $11.25 million deal, though he signed that extension against the advice of his agent, Gregg Clifton, who believed Arroyo could be losing close to $4 million by giving up the chance to go to arbitration after the 2006 and 2007 seasons. Clifton also believed that by signing for three years at a fixed cost Arroyo would be more attractive to a small-market club.

Clifton, upon seeing this reporter's number appear on his phone yesterday, answered, and instead of saying hello, said, ''Carnac. What did I tell you?"

Arroyo ignored Clifton's advice, he said at the time, ''simply for the reason I want to play in this town. I love being a Red Sox. I wouldn't have signed this deal in any other [city]."

The day the deal was announced, Jan. 19, Arroyo said, ''They didn't give me any guarantees [I won't be traded]. But Jed [Hoyer] and Ben [Cherington] both stated to me there were no deals on the table for me now, and they felt pretty strongly I wouldn't be traded anywhere in the near future."

Happy enough, he signed and bought a townhouse in Boston. But things changed for the Sox. For one, Epstein returned as GM. For another, Wells rescinded his trade request earlier this month, leaving the Sox with seven starters.

''I've seen it written that there was some understanding between the club and Bronson with respect to signing this contract and some sort of tacit agreement not to trade him, and that simply wasn't the case," Epstein said yesterday. ''Jed Hoyer was the one who finished the contract. He told Bronson at the time that signing such a contract came with no guarantees about being traded.

''The one thing that he assured Bronson of was at the time there were no active trade discussions with Bronson, and that was certainly true, but that was several months ago and things did change as teams inquired about Bronson this spring.

''But I can assure you all that there was no handshake, there was no gentlemen's agreement, and I think all our players understand that without an express no-trade clause we can't give them any guarantee that they won't be traded at a certain point."

Arroyo is expected to be in the Sox clubhouse this morning to say goodbye to teammates. Pena, too, is expected this morning. Out will walk the rail-thin breaking-ball artist. In will walk the 245-pound slugger.

''I've never seen anybody hit a ball harder than that guy," David Ortiz said of Pena, his Dominican teammate at the World Baseball Classic.

Ortiz was asked: Not even you?

''No," Ortiz said, ''not even."

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