Penny Released

For the second time this month, the Red Sox have overreacted to a recent poor stretch of results and granted free agency to a quality major league pitcher. First, they cut John Smoltz loose, and now they’ve let Brad Penny out of his contract after they removed him from their starting rotation and he expressed a desire to start for another team down the stretch. The list of suitors lining up for Penny will be long, just as it should be – the guy can still pitch.

Even with his recent struggles, he’s running a 4.48 FIP on the season, thanks to recording twice as many strikeouts as walks and maintaining a neutral home run rate. That makes him around a league average starting pitcher for the season. Yes, he throws his fastball too much, but that’s always been true – he’s averaged 70% or more fastballs every year since 2004, and he’s proven he can be at least moderately successful pounding the zone with heaters.

The chink in his results – a .336 batting average on balls in play, which isn’t particularly predictive of anything. ZIPS projects a 4.44 FIP from Penny going forward, and that’s assuming he stays in the American League. Someone’s going to get a quality pitcher for nothing – who are the contenders for his services?

Detroit makes a lot of sense, as the back of their rotation is a bit of a mess. They just sent Aramando Galarraga to Triple-A for a brief stint, Jarrod Washburn is turning into a pumpkin, and they are simultaneously trying to limit Rick Porcello’s innings, leading to things like Nate Robertson and Zach Miner splitting a start this weekend. With a 67 percent chance to win the division, they’re the clear favorites in the AL Central, and Penny would have a good shot at cracking their playoff rotation.

If he wanted to go back to the National League, Colorado has a clear need for a starting pitcher after just losing Aaron Cook with an arm problem. The Rockies are leading the Wild Card race in the NL and should be an aggressive suitor, but as a free agent to be, Penny might not want to ply his trade in Coors Field for the last month of the season.

That would leave Florida as the best fit in the NL. Penny obviously has history there, and he would be a clear upgrade over Sean West in the Marlins rotation. At 4 1/2 games behind the Rockies in the Wild Card standings, they’re a long shot to play in October, but it would be a chance at some meaningful baseball in September in an environment that he knows fairly well.

I’d bet on Detroit, but regardless of where he ends up, he’s likely to be an asset. Boston has to hope that this doesn’t come back and bite them in the playoffs.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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13 years ago

I wouldn’t be surprised (this might just be wishful thinking) if the Angels go after him. The back of their rotation has been extremely messy. Even though they just got Saunders back, it’s unlikely he’ll pitch better than league average ball, Weaver, Lackey, and Santana have all been inconsistent, and they’ve been running a random AAA call-up in the fifth starter position since the beginning of the season.

Penny would solidify the rotation for the stretch run and would have a shot at making the playoff roster as either a starter (if Saunders or Santana can’t find their mojo) or at least as a long reliever ahead of guys like Matt Palmer or Trevor Bell.