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Is Arroyo Worth it?

According to John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Reds will pick up Bronson Arroyo‘s option after the season. Arroyo’s option calls for $11 million, and by picking it up, the Reds will forgo a $2 million buyout.

In the same article, Fay also notes that the Reds will not be picking up Aaron Harang‘s option. That leaves the following pitchers as potential options for the Cincinnati opening day starting rotation: Arroyo, Johnny Cueto, Edinson Volquez, Travis Wood, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, Matt Maloney, Sam LeCure, and, potentially, Aroldis Chapman.

Therefore, when evaluating this contract, we need to not only compare Arroyo to replacement level but also to the level of these other starters that the Reds have available. Arroyo put up 1.7 WAR in 2009, with a mediocre 4.61 FIP but a solid, .246 BABIP supported 3.88 ERA. Overall, Arroyo was a 1.7 WAR pitcher, but thanks to his good ERA, his performance was worth much more than that to the Reds last season.

Arroyo definitely could be the kind of guy who can outperform his FIP, but I would hesitate to project another season in which his results better his peripherals by three quarters of a run or more. Arroyo has a slightly low career BABIP of .290 and his LOB rates are very close to league average. As such, we should expect the difference between Arroyo’s FIP and ERA to be somewhere between zero and his career average of 0.27 instead of the 0.72 we saw in 2010.

According to CHONE’s most recent projections, Arroyo is a 4.48 ERA pitcher. Of the other starters listed above, none of them have a projected ERA above 4.78 (Chapman doesn’t have a projection). CHONE projects five starters (aside from Arroyo) to put up at least 17 RAR and three others to put up 11 RAR. It appears that the young depth that the Reds have would be able to cover the loss of Arroyo quite well. Arroyo probably provides half a win to one win above the rest of the Reds rotation, making $11 million a high price to pay.

However, with the Reds coming off their first playoff season in 15 seasons, Walt Jocketty probably isn’t terribly willing to risk success on five extremely young starters. To him, the relatively marginal upgrade of Arroyo over those young pitchers appears to be worth the premium. As the commitment is only for one season and the Reds have already expressed an intention to increase payroll, this kind of contract certainly isn’t going to kill the Reds, either in 2011 or in the future.

Despite that, the Reds aren’t a team without weaknesses, and they may be able to do better than Arroyo with that $11 million. The free agent crop at SP is relatively thin this year, and that makes holding on to Arroyo a safe use of their money. If players like Scott Rolen and Drew Stubbs and Johnny Cueto perform as well as they did last year, that may be enough for a repeat NL Central championship. If not, the Reds may find themselves wishing they made a bigger play with their money than the relatively stable but unimpressive Arroyo.