The End of the Bronson Arroyo Era




On March 20, 2006, the Cincinnati Reds traded 24-year old slugging outfielder Wily Mo Pena and an undisclosed sum of cash to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for pitcher Bronson Arroyo. Arroyo was 29 with a high leg kick, long flowing locks—occasionally cornrows—and a World Series ring as a member of the historic 2004 Red Sox team.

The Reds were on a streak of five consecutive losing seasons and, just a month earlier, Wayne Krivsky had been named the new General Manager of the club. Krivsky’s first job: upgrade a pitching staff that included Aaron Harang and a bunch of less-than-shining lights (Eric Milton, Ramon Ortiz, Brandon Claussen, et. al.). Krivsky’s second job, evidently, was to improve the middle infield; three weeks later, he stole Brandon Phillips from the Indians for a player to be named later.

Back to the Arroyo trade. At the time, Arroyo was reportedly displeased about the deal, since he had just signed a three-year deal with Boston. Many Reds fans were similarly unhappy. Here’s the original post from Redleg Nation more than 11 years ago, announcing the trade and capturing our immediate reactions. Some of the comments are hilarious in retrospect:

  • Arroyo? WILL suck, he’s another flyball pitcher in a park that eats them ALIVE.

  • I think Krivsky just traded Jesse Barfield to get Chris Codiroli. He’ll live to regret this trade.

  • I’m not all that enthused. Trading a potential 50-HR guy, even if imperfect, for a league-average starter (at best), doesn’t impress. And where’s Arroyo going to pitch? (Paul) Wilson’s going to be healthy at some point, and then what?

  • I’m having a hard time buying the fact that all we could get out of Pena was Bronson Arroyo. I would have preferred to keep him around, drop fly balls, and hit about 40 dingers and get some REAL value out of him next season instead of Arroyo.

Here’s the best one. Some moron commenting under the name “Chad Dotson” provided us with this brilliant analysis:

I’m unimpressed. Give Krivsky credit for trying something to get pitching, but Arroyo is terribly overrated. He’s a #4 starter. I suppose there is some value in that, but I’d rather see what Wily Mo’s upside is, all in all.

I don’t think the Reds are better today than they were yesterday. I don’t think they are worse…they just aren’t better.

Haha, what a dumb guy, right?

It wouldn’t take long for opinions to change. By mid-July of 2006, the surprising Reds were above .500 and in second place in the National League Central. Meanwhile, Arroyo was 9-6 with a 2.96 ERA and he was selected to represent Cincinnati in that summer’s All-Star Game. Though the Reds would dip to 80-82 and yet another losing season (then three more losing seasons after that), the honeymoon between Bronson Arroyo and Cincinnati never really ended.

What followed was an often glorious, usually entertaining reality show that ran for eight seasons. There was Wonderwall at RedsFest. Classic JTM commercials. Saturn Nuts. A brilliant duet with Aroldis Chapman.

None of that would have been possible if Arroyo hadn’t been a pretty good pitcher. In that 2006 season, Arroyo posted an outstanding 6.8 wins above replacement. Over his (first) eight seasons in Cincinnati, Arroyo won 105 games with an ERA of 4.05 and an ERA+ of 105. He made an All-Star team and won a Gold Glove. Arroyo pitched 200+ innings in every season except 2011, when he only pitched 199.

Arroyo is tied with Johnny Vander Meer for number six on the Reds all-time franchise list for games started (he has 279 at the moment). If he were able to win one more game, he’d tie Red Lucas for #10 on the all-time franchise wins list. He’s #11 in innings pitched. He’s in the Reds top 20 for WAR, tied with Tom Browning (and ahead of Tom Seaver, Harang, Don Gullett, and Homer Bailey).

Even better: the Reds were good for much of that time, too. Arroyo’s tenure in Cincinnati corresponded with the club’s ascendance and culminated in the most successful run—2010 to 2013—the club had seen in two decades. It was a fun time, and it was over all too soon. In fact, the Reds haven’t had a winning season since Arroyo left at the end of the 2013 season.

After moving on to Arizona, Arroyo underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014. As a result, he hadn’t pitched in the big leagues until this season, when Arroyo authored an inspiring (though somewhat controversial, in some corners) comeback story. He made the Reds roster and, though we all knew it was a long shot, it was a fun story.

At least for a bit. Things haven’t gone well, and now it may be over. The Reds just placed Bronson on the disabled list, and following another bad start against the Dodgers on Sunday, Arroyo conceded—in his inimitable style—that he may have thrown his last pitch in the big leagues.

If it is over, no one will remember that 7.35 ERA in 14 starts this season. At least, I hope not. Arroyo is a no-doubt Reds Hall of Famer in my mind. In a few years, he’ll be back in Cincinnati for an on-field ceremony in which the Reds will celebrate his induction into the club’s Hall, and we can all reminisce about the good times—the funky leg kick, the way he baffled hitters by changing speeds and arm angles, those goofy commercials and hilarious interviews.

If this is really the end of the line for Arroyo, it’s the end of a really fun career.

And for the record, Wily Mo Pena played a total of 599 games in the majors and was “worth” -1.2 WAR. I guess the Reds won that trade after all.

Chad Dotson is a contributor to Nuxhall Way, ESPN’s SweetSpot blog, and the founder of Redleg Nation. You can follow him on Twitter at @dotsonc.

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