But after Penny's fifth quality start of the season, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein may indeed leave critics with "AIG" on their faces.
Many felt that Epstein was being penny wise and pound foolish when he signed the big right-hander during the offseason. After an injury-plagued year, Penny was inked to a $5.5 million deal, with another $5.5 million in possible incentives. Following a 6-9 win-loss record and an ERA of 6.27 for the Dodgers in 2008, most GMs didn't even have Penny on their shopping list.
Epstein saw Penny as a low risk, high reward move to help bolster the bottom of the Red Sox rotation. Penny is currently sitting at 3-1 with a hefty ERA, but for those who have watched him all season, it is clear that Penny's stock is rising.
Penny has gone more than six innings in five of his seven starts. In four of those five starts, he has given up three earned runs or fewer, while giving up four earned runs yesterday.
Omit Penny's two disastrous starts in April, and his earned run average would be a palatable 4.80.
In his last three starts it is evident that Penny is adjusting to the American League, a challenge that plagues many National League transplants. Penny has demonstrated that he has fully recovered from the shoulder inflammation that held him to just nine innings total after the All-Star Break last season.
His velocity has consistently been in the low 90s, hitting 94 several times on the radar gun yesterday with good location. He's been mixing in his other pitches well, keeping hitters off balance.
As solid as Penny has been, however, it would surprise no one if Epstein dealt from a position of strength and traded his asset within the next month or so.
To complement Penny and the other four Red Sox starters—Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Tim Wakefield, and Justin Masterson—the Red Sox have as much pitching depth as anyone in the majors.
Daisuke Matsuzaka is soon to return from the disabled list, which would allow Masterson to head back to the bullpen.
John Smoltz, who the Red Sox signed as another low risk, high return free agent, is expected to be pitching in the Boston Red Sox rotation roughly around June 1, 2009.
Down on the farm, the Red Sox have Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden waiting in the wings, eager to enter the Red Sox's vaunted rotation. Buchholz is 2-0 with a microscopic 1.03 ERA, while Bowden is 2-1 with a nearly identical 1.06 ERA for the Pawtucket Red Sox in AAA.
Barring an injury or a bout of prolonged ineffectiveness, Penny would appear to be the odd man out.
With 10 years in the majors, Penny's experience would be viewed as an asset by other contending teams, while his salary, with nearly half the season gone by June, makes him affordable for almost any potential suitor.
Look for Epstein and the Sox to move Penny in exchange for a shortstop or a left-handed power bat. Currently, Sox DH David Ortiz is struggling mightily at the plate, while Julio Lugo and utility man Nick Green have been filling in for the injured Jed Lowrie.
Either way, it appears that Sox fans would agree that Penny has provided a solid return on Epstein's investment.