Kenny Williams just can’t help himself. The man loves hard-throwing, right-handed relievers and will pay through the nose in order to get them. We are talking about the same general manager who in recent history agreed to $30 million bucks worth of Octavio Dotel and Scott Linebrink, and now he pulls the trigger to get another strong armed reliever in Tony Pena, giving up a solid prospect in the process.
As many of you may recall, Pena once was a once a big story, and not for his arm, but for falsifying his information on his visa, going under the alias Adriano Rosario. When the truth of his real identity came to light, what also was revealed is that (surprise!) Pena was five years older than his reported age. In a flash, Pena went from an 18-year old whiz kid dominating the minors to something like Billy Madison throwing dodge-balls at hapless elementary school students.
That’s not to say Pena doesn’t have talent. In a nutshell, Pena throws hard. His average fastball velocity is 95-MPH, and he also features a hard slider and a changeup, both pitches have been effective offerings for him this year. For someone with stuff as good as Pena’s, it’s surprising he doesn’t strikeout more batters; he’s actually been rather average in that regard. (6.55 career K/9, 6.88 this season). Pena has better control than average and for someone who has pitched in a rather hitter-friendly park, he’s done a fine job of keeping the ball in the yard. He has a 4.24 ERA now, but much of that can be blamed on some bad BABIP breaks (.352). ZiPS pegs him to post a 3.53 FIP for the rest of the season. I can imagine that may change a tad due to the switch in leagues, but as far as ballparks he’s moving from one rough neighborhood to another.
The price for Pena is Brandon Allen. The 23 year old is a big, left-handed power hitter who positioned himself as either Jim Thome or Paul Konerko‘s heir. The former prep linebacker was a fifth rounder out of high school in ’04, but struggled to make contact during his first three seasons in the minors. Allen has made strides over the past couple of seasons, and after being promoted to Double-A last year, he posted a nifty .290/.358/.614 line in 274 plate appearances. All told, between High-A and Double-A, he smacked 29 homers last year while cutting down his strikeout numbers and increasing his walk rate.
This year it seems Allen has traded power for contact. His average is up to .290 at Double-A and he’s striking out less than ever (19.5%), but his power has suffered (.162 ISO). Of course, he still has more time to work out the kinks. Chad Tracy has been just plain bad since coming back last year, so D-Bax fans hope Allen is the answer to the first base question for years to come. Allen does carry an air of uncertainty given his recent power decline and the struggles he experienced early in his career, but if all goes well, he profiles to be better than your run of the mill, everyday first baseman.
The Southsiders are only a couple of games behind Detroit and have won eight of their last ten games, so Kenny Williams is going for it, but in the wrong way. The Sox have plenty of needs, but fixing the bullpen is hardly one of them. Assuming Pena will slot behind Jenks, Thornton, Linebrink and Dotel, all Pena figures to add to the Sox is half a win. On the flip side, Dotel is a free agent at the end of the year, and Pena won’t be eligible for free agency until 2013, so I guess there is some foresight in this move, but it’s not like relievers of Pena’s ilk are hard to find. The Sox had hitting depth to spare given the presence of Tyler Flowers and Dayan Viciedo, so trading from that strength makes sense, but not for another bullpen arm.
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