Bronson Arroyo has achieved a level of professional and financial success that he never dreamed of as a skinny young pitcher in Brooksville, Fla., a Tampa-St. Petersburg suburb that was once known as the "Home of the Tangerine." But he remains a staunch proponent of substance over style.
Arroyo has earned almost $72 million in his career, but he's inclined to spend it more on friends and life experiences than material things. He drives a BMW 750 that's eight years old and still lives in the 1,400-square-foot house that he built from scratch with his father, uncle and two helpers in 2003. He keeps a daily schedule with pen and paper and tucks it in his wallet each morning for handy reference. He still uses the mobile device that his agent, Terry Bross, got him in an endorsement deal with Sprint PCS in 2004. Yes, the hip, guitar-strumming guy with the flowing locks and cool persona walks around with a flip phone.
For the sake of security and peace of mind, Arroyo just wishes the phone would start ringing and vibrating a little more often.
Arroyo's first career dalliance with free agency finds him in a puzzling netherworld. Like so many other starters, he's been waiting for Japanese free agent Masahiro Tanaka to be posted (or not) and provide some clarity to the market. Meanwhile, trade speculation surrounding the Tampa Bay Rays' David Price and the Chicago Cubs' Jeff Samardzija is also gumming up the works.
Ricky Nolasco, Scott Feldman, Phil Hughes and Scott Kazmir, younger pitchers with lesser portfolios, have all landed multiyear deals with guaranteed payouts of $49 million, $30 million, $24 million and $22 million, respectively. Ervin Santana, Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez are generally regarded as the plums when the upper echelon starters do, indeed, start moving.
Arroyo fits … where, exactly? The New York Yankees touched base with him last week, and the Los Angeles Angels, Baltimore Orioles and Arizona Diamondbacks are all potential fits, in part because they're looking for a starter and Arroyo will not require the team that signs him to surrender a draft pick.
But some Internet buzz appears to have no basis in reality. Arroyo said the Cincinnati Reds have not offered him a one-year deal -- as has been reported -- and denies that he was ever close to an agreement with the Minnesota Twins. Those two teams could ultimately be in the mix for him, but at the moment, his 2014 destination is a mystery.
Although lots of scouts and evaluators think Arroyo would be better served pitching in the National League than the American, he's been hardened enough by life in the Great American Park band box in Cincinnati to think he can survive in any venue. He would prefer the East Coast to the West Coast, but that's not a deal-breaker by any means, and he's physically fit enough to think he can pitch at least three more seasons, even though he turns 37 in February.
From Arroyo's vantage point, it's up to potential suitors to make their move, and then he'll weigh his options and react. He conveys those sentiments in the type of candid, colorful imagery that Reds beat reporters have come to know and love in his eight seasons with Cincinnati.
"There's no point in me really thinking about where my perfect place is, because I don't know who's interested," Arroyo said. "It's like going to a party and the whole premise is to find a wife. There are 10 girls there, and three of them are smoking hot, but they don't even look in your direction twice, so there's no point in going after them. Then maybe somebody else comes along who didn't seem so attractive at first, and you like what she's saying and you think, 'Hey, maybe this is the one.'
"That's the way I see it. I can't pick and choose teams. They have to choose me, and I realize it could take a long time for them to get where they need to be. I've been fine, but if it's January 15th and I'm still spinning my wheels, I'll probably change my tune."
An undervalued asset
Amid a landscape of grunters, snorters and swing-and-miss inducers, Arroyo's biggest selling points are durability and resourcefulness. He's surpassed 200 innings in eight of the past nine seasons. The lone exception was 2011, when he battled Valley Fever, mononucleosis and a case of the whooping cough that caused him to lose 17 pounds, but he still made 32 starts and logged 199 innings. His next trip to the disabled list will be a career first.
Arroyo's biggest drawbacks are advancing years, a low strikeout rate and a fastball that can charitably be described as "pokey." As the 2014 Bill James Handbook duly notes, he threw a National League-high 1,506 pitches under 80 mph in 2013. According to FanGraphs, Arroyo's average fastball velocity of 87.2 mph was the fourth slowest in the majors -- faster only than R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Eric Stults. On a positive note, it mirrored the 88 mph gun reading that Arroyo clocked with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2002.
"We always felt that he fits better in the National League," an AL personnel man said. "That said, I think he gets undervalued because he's not an eye-popping 'stuff' guy. Realistically, when you look at pitchers who are close to 200-inning guys, how many right-handers are throwing 87-88? They're almost nonexistent for the most part. What he does is pretty remarkable, really."
Arroyo wears the designation with pride and is constantly looking for wrinkles that can enhance his repertoire. Several years ago, he began dropping down and throwing his curveball at a lower angle to make it more sweeping and give hitters a new look. The tactic was so effective that he began doing the same thing with his fastball. Then, one day last summer, Reds broadcaster Chris Welsh passed through the clubhouse and suggested it might be time for a "drop-down changeup." Arroyo agreed and immediately went out and threw eight of them in a victory over the Atlanta Braves.
You want diverse? Arroyo throws his fastball 44 percent of the time, his slider 27 percent of the time, his changeup 16 percent and his curveball 13 percent. Once every 100 pitches or so, he'll mix in a cutter for the sake of unpredictability and amusement.
Arroyo is such a creature of habit, one personnel man who's familiar with his routine said he prepares like a "ninja." The process encompasses everything from pitching to training to dietary habits. Arroyo is big on organic food, keeps the butter, cheese and burgers to a minimum and estimates that it's been five years since he's cracked open a can of soda. During the regular season, he typically wakes up each morning and throws some celery, carrots, ginger and kale into a blender and begins each day with a nutritional jump-start.
"Bronson has the ability to learn something very quickly, implement it and stay with it," Bross said. "He's extremely cerebral, and he's always three steps ahead of everybody else. They broke the mold when they made this guy. I know a lot of people say that, but I have not seen a guy who's as consistent in what he does and as thoughtful and intelligent in the decisions he makes. He plans and pre-plans everything."
As the Hot Stove market keeps churning, the challenge for any unemployed player is to stay positive and channel his energy into things he can control. For Arroyo, that means killer workouts. When he's in Cincinnati, he'll head over to Great American Ball Park and lift weights six days a week or play long toss by himself. He'll get in a cage with 100 baseballs in a bucket and heave them into a net at various angles and velocities. Arroyo is a big believer in throwing almost year round, so he allowed himself only a brief respite in October before getting back to business.
When he's home in Florida, Arroyo splits his time between his native Brooksville and Naples, where he works out with trainer Rick Lademann at a facility called Beyond Motion. His main workout partners are Chicago White Sox minor leaguer Michael Johnson and All-Star pitcher Chris Sale, one of the few big leaguers with a lithe frame and the flexibility to rival Arroyo's. "He's like Gumby," Arroyo said. "He's so loose and lanky and just slings it at 95. It's crazy."
Arroyo spends the rest of his time connecting with old high school buddies and other people who are important in his life. Last winter, he treated the Reds' clubhouse attendants to a vacation in Costa Rica. This year, he splurged for some childhood friends, their wives and children -- 13 people in all -- on a trip to Disney World.
"I don't even enjoy kids, to be honest with you," Arroyo said. "And I don't enjoy Disney World. But it was the right thing to do."
If and when a team signs Arroyo, it will get a player who is universally regarded as a good teammate and positive clubhouse influence. Arroyo takes pains to know the janitors and security guards by their first names and never ceases to keep the media entertained.
When Arroyo was 5 years old, his father, Gus, taught him the value of hard work in pursuit of a goal and the honor in earning his money regardless of the obstacles. Gus has slowed down considerably after two kidney transplants and other health issues, but the life lessons he imparted to his son continue to resonate.
"I don't know what outsiders think of me," Arroyo said. "I've never heard a scouting report from another team, but I know what the people who are in front of me for six months think of me. I come to the ballpark every day enthused. I'm the same guy. I have a good attitude about it, I love being there, and I want my teammates to do well.
"I know I pull mad respect in that way, but people from other organizations only have the baseball numbers to go by. Yeah, your reputation might precede you a little bit, but not to the point where people can really grab or touch or taste it."
Free agency can be a journey of self-awareness for players at all ends of the spectrum. Sometime between now and mid-January -- he hopes -- Bronson Arroyo will get a better idea whether MLB teams measure a pitcher by radar-gun readings alone.