In a post that was written only in my head during yesterday's off-day, I was trying to figure out where the most obvious, cost-effective areas would be for the White Sox to acquire talent as the trade deadline approached. They've got (or previously had) 4 obvious holes; third base (now covered by Beckham), second base (starting to figure things out with a platoon of Getz/Nix), center field (to be filled by Pods when Quentin comes back) and 5th starter (waiting for Richard/Poreda to figure things out). In each instance I seemingly talked myself out of pursuing an upgrade as I just wasn't imaginative enough to come up with realistic cost-effective solutions.
There was, however, one more area I could envision the Sox upgrading at what I imagined wouldn't be such a talent-cost burden; the bullpen, specifically another right-hander. I wasn't going to bother wading through possible trade targets -- there are just too damn many potential targets -- but in my mind, I was thinking about the David Riske deal of a few years back.
Enter Tony Pena in the White Sox annual trade with the Diamondbacks.
Pena is an Octavio Dotel-type fastball-slider pitcher, though he's never had a Dotelian ability to miss bats. His mid-90's fastball has helped induce groundballs at a much higher rate than Dotel, however. He's shown flashes of greatness, and at one point appeared to be Arizona's closer of the future. In fact, just this year, he had a 1.85 ERA, good component ratios, and held opponents to a .626 OPS through the season's first two months (a span of 24 appearances). But since June 1, he's been terrible, allowing 18 hits over his last 9.2 innings, good for a 1.038 OPS allowed and 10.24 ERA.
I can't see any major difference in his pitch f/x data since then, so I'm not really sure what to make of the recent ugliness aside from your usual reliever volatility. I'm not quite sure how to feel about the notion of the Sox scouting him during that stretch. On one hand, it could be a Matt Thornton type situation, where Don Cooper and the Sox scouting staff sees something that the Snakes don't, on the other ... Nick Masset.
Pena will be arbitration-eligible next year, which puts him under White Sox control through the '12 season, so this isn't a 1-year Riske-type hired gun acquisition. No, Pena is here to lighten the load on Linebrink, who has lost effectiveness in back-to-back days, and slide into the Dotel role as he probably moves on as a free agent this off-season.
Through that prism, I love the acquisition of Tony Pena. He's a live-armed middle reliever with some potential to work high-leverage situations, and he's not a one-and-done mercenary. But, and this is a significant but, why did it have to cost Brandon Allen?
Colin and I disagreed a bit about Allen's expendability just a couple of weeks ago. I wasn't willing to pencil Allen into the Sox opening day lineup for next year, but I had his ETA pegged for mid-season '10, with him taking over full time for Konerko-Thome in '11. I couldn't see the Sox moving him because it would seem to point them in the direction of staying old-and-slow at 1B/DH in the not-too-distant future. The Sox obviously have different ideas.
It's not like Allen was without his faults. It wasn't until a breakout campaign last year that I started paying attention to him again, and even then it was really only when he began tearing up AA. He didn't have the strike zone control of future major leaguer at the lower levels, though he has improved on that significantly in the last two seasons. For me, the bigger question is what happened to his power? His ISO has dipped to its lowest since he first hit full-season ball, and has struggled in his very short stint at AAA thus far.
It's for those reasons that I could probably very easily be convinced that trading Allen was the right move. I'm just having a hard time wrapping my head around moving him in a deal for what seemed to be the Sox 5th most pressing need, even if I do like the guy we got.