The acquisition of Bronson Arroyo from the Boston Red Sox after the 2005 season was emblematic of all things wrong with that era of Cincinnati baseball.
It was the same line of thinking that led them into acquiring Jonny Gomes, Rich Aurilia, and Eric Milton, the same process that led them to Paul Wilson and Todd Van Poppel. It was like walking into your college buddies' dorm room on a Wednesday with a pint of Jim Beam and heckling them for being less drunk than you while they studied for a test they had the next morning, all the while knowing that you only had $20 bucks to your name and they were all catching flights to Mykonos that weekend.
Oh, those were the darkest of times.
The Reds had Austin Kearns, Adam Dunn, and Ken Griffey, Jr., and they traded their continually exposed one-tool 4th outfielder for the Red Sox 4th starter. To the Red Sox, it was clearing space in their rotation for the likes of Curt Schilling, John Lester, and Josh Beckett; for the Reds, it was trading for a front-line starter.
Cincinnati had just led the National League in scoring with 820 runs, had just led the National League in team OPS at .785, and had just finished under .500...again. Fresh off a season that saw him throw 205 innings of 4.51 ERA, 4.4 K/9, 1.30 WHIP ball, Arroyo was junkballer, a semi-effective back of the rotation starter who threw his fastball under 90 mph and was signed for peanuts.
But the Reds, who had no money, had actually talked to someone. That was news!
It was make-news, though. The Reds had made a habit of pouncing on cut-price deals for players who were once held in high regard but suddenly fell into their lap for what should have been obvious reasons. They'd recently signed and frontpage'd former 1st round draft picks in Wilson and Van Poppel to predictably disastrous results, and they'd thrown millions at Eric Milton, whose peripherals had left him untouched by most every other competent front office. Arroyo was an upgrade, for certain, but he didn't project as a difference maker; while he wasn't what the Reds should have targeted, he was what the Reds could have targeted, and they got him.
That was the problem: Bronson Arroyo was all the Reds could get.
The early and mid 2000's Reds were the current Tampa Bay Rays minus the smarts, a team akin to the modern day Dallas Cowboys: long on flash, short on substance, and classically mismanaged at the top. The remnants of a Jim Bowden farm system had dealt the Reds a hand that was as powerful as it was predictable, one laden with mashers capable of launching 480 foot home runs and pitchers equally as capable of surrendering them.
There were no dollars for fireballers. There were no top-flight prospects in the minors ready to upgrade the single worst pitching staff in the National League. The Reds could not afford to pay a top flight free agent pitcher to come to Cincinnati, they couldn't promote a future top flight pitcher from AAA, and they didn't have enough prospects to trade for a top flight pitcher.
But they could get Arroyo, and they did.
They rolled the dice on a marginal pitcher with an unorthodox style in hopes it would both work and be undervalued by their competitors in Major League Baseball, seeking an inefficiency in the market. Rather than trying to be better at looking for the same exact thing sought by the other 29 teams, they looked for something none of them were looking for; they tried to outsmart them rather than beat them at the same game...and, for once, it worked.
It worked marvelously. It still works marvelously. It's rather unbelievable.
I'm not sure there is a single player that better represents the Reds of recent memory than Bronson Arroyo, who may well be taking the mound for the final time as a member of the franchise tomorrow.
Arroyo's 8 seasons as a Red have left him firmly placed among the best pitchers of the modern era of this storied franchise, as he ranks in the Top 20 in career wins, games started, and innings pitched. He's banked right at $65 million for his time in the Queen City, and while the nature of the way he pitches and penchant for the occasional Ruh-Rohyo clunker has made the dollar outlay for him seem, at times, excessive, he's actually proven to be a bargain for the franchise over his time here (as his 22.0 career bWAR confirms).
Arroyo pitches like an underdog, a guy who on paper should lose each and every time he's set to take the mound because of his lack of a fastball, and he's been the perfect kind of pitcher to bridge the era of the broken down has-beens to the era of hard throwing prototypes, and despite his godawful JTM commercials and unabashed affection for Three Doors Down, I'm going to miss seeing him take the mound every 5 days for my favorite team. I'm going to miss the leg kick, the 71 mph sidearm frisbee curves, and the doctored pictures with massive Saturn Nuts. I'm going to miss looking up at the end of the season and seeing him with 200 innings and a 3.50 ERA.
Most of all, though, I think I'll miss the evidence that at one point and time the Reds had outsmarted every other team in baseball.