It’s the 10th game of the season, which means the Sox have played approximately 6 percent of the 2007 games…and Wily Modesta Pena (or, as Joe Castiglione once called him, Wilfredo Modesto Pena) has started exactly zero games and racked up a grand total of four plate appearances. This puts him on pace for about 65 plate appearances over the course of the entire season, which is approximately how many Julio Lugo will have by the end of this week’s Toronto series.*
What gives? Pena was so highly considered by the Sox that they acquired him by trading Bronson Arroyo, a dependable workhorse who had just signed a three-year deal for considerably below market value. In an injury-shortened 2006 season, he showed flashes of the raw talent and awesome power that made him so desirable in the first place: in the first two weeks of August, he had five home runs and 10 RBIs. (It was at that time that I argued that Pena’s potential was as good an argument as any for jettisoning Trot Nixon; at the time, I didn’t realizing the Sox had $14 million a year to play around with.)
I’ve always been a fan of WMP’s, if only because when he’s at bat, there’s always a chance that someone in the Monster seats is gonna get his head ripped off by a line drive. (As Bill James once said to me, sometimes the fact that a player is fun to watch is enough of a reason to want him on your team.) But even if I didn’t like him, I’d be confused by what’s going on. There have been several obvious places where he could — and should — have gotten a start; today’s afternoon start, coming after yesterday’s night game, is one of them. (It’s not as if the team’s outfielders are tearing it up: Manny and Coco have a combined .156 batting average to go along with their six RBIs. Make that seven: Manny just drove in Eric Hinske, another one of the team’s MIA players. And J.D. Drew, the best offensive player on the team thus far, could always use a day off to keep him healthy.) If, for whatever reason, the Sox have lost faith and/or interest in WMP, they’re not helping his stock on the trade market by keeping him on the bench. And if they still think he could develop into a valuable player, they’re not helping his confidence (or his mood) by not letting him play.
Role players almost always play a crucial role on good teams. Wily Mo isn’t a selfish prick in the Jay Payton mold, but it’s hard to imagine anyone who’d be happy seeing so little action. If he isn’t in the starting lineup in the next week — which features both Monday’s 10 am start and the Wednesday-Thursday night-day combo — I’m going to need to assume he was caught doing something very bad with some very important person’s wife.
* As it turns out, Francona told the press before today’s game that Wily Mo would likely get a start in the next couple of days…which would put him on pace for a whopping total of 14 starts all year.