Everyone assumes, I think, that 2010 will be Bronson Arroyo’s last year with the Reds. This is the last year of his contract, and Arroyo is 33 years old, and the Reds have a nice group of young pitchers, so there has been a general consensus that Arroyo won’t be re-signed.

Lately, I’ve begun wondering whether the Reds should actually pursue a contract extension with Arroyo. I’m trying to divorce emotion from the analysis here, though I concede that’s a difficult proposition for me. The editors and many of you guys occasionally mock me for being a gooey, “Field of Dreams”-type baseball fan. Sometimes I have players I like, even if there is no discernible reason. Bronson Arroyo is one of those guys. A couple of weeks ago, it occured to me that I enjoy watching Arroyo play baseball more than anyone else on this team.

So, I like the stats and the sabretastics, but I admit I’m an emotional fan. I also feel bloated and unattractive since the baby. (Wait, what?) It’s just who I am. Sue me.

Unfortunately for Arroyo, as soon as I declare that I’m a fan of a particular player, that player is usually sent packing (see Dunn, Adam and Encarnacion, Edwin). Ignoring the fact that I’m condemning Arroyo to be dealt in some cosmic way, the question at hand is really whether the Reds should look into keeping Arroyo around for longer than this season. There is no clear-cut answer, but I’m leaning toward saying yes.

Let’s look at a few numbers. First of all, Arroyo is coming off a season in which he won fifteen games (his second straight 15-win season, for what that’s worth) with an ERA of 3.84. His ERA+ was 112. A good season, no matter how you slice it.

For his Reds career, Arroyo’s numbers actually look better than you’d expect. His ERA+ is 112, his ERA is 4.02, Though not brilliant, he’s been an above-average starter during that time.

What swings the analysis, in my opinion, is Arroyo’s durability. This guy is like the Law & Order* of starting pitchers; you can’t get him out of the lineup, no matter surrounds him in the rotation. He hasn’t pitched fewer than 200 innings in any season with the Reds, and he has led the league in starts twice (with 35 and 34; during the two seasons in which Arroyo didn’t lead the league, he still started 34 and 33 games). He makes every start and he chews up innings. There is value in an above-average pitcher who can throw that many innings.

*Yes, I know Law & Order was canceled. Imperfect analogy, you say?

I see no reason to think that Arroyo won’t be able to continue at this pace for the foreseeable future. Sure, he’s getting older, and his K/9 rate has dropped a bit, but this guy knows how to pitch better than anyone I’ve seen in a while (I know, I know, how do you quantify that? Work with me here, people). He’s averaging almost seven innings a start this year. He’s showing few signs of slowing down.

Isn’t there a pretty good chance that Arroyo will be an above-average starter — even if only slightly above-average — for the next three years? If so, wouldn’t you like to have that guy in the middle of your rotation, surrounded by a bunch of young guns?

The real question is what Arroyo would command on the open market. I have a sense that he’ll be able to make more as a free agent than the Reds could offer him. With Arroyo’s durability and production, someone will covet him, I imagine. If the Reds could get him for a reasonable price, should they consider it? Maybe, but I’m not sure the price will be reasonable enough to fit into the Reds’ budget plans.

I can absolutely see the argument for letting Arroyo walk, or for dealing him at the trade deadline.* Frankly, until recently, I really hadn’t considered the arguments for bringing him back because I thought it was a foregone conclusion that Arroyo would be pitching elsewhere next season. He has kinda been lumped in with Aaron Harang in the “old guys who are gone after this year” contingent.

What do you think the Reds should do? What do you think the Reds will do?

* Perhaps the Red Sox will trade Wily Mo Pena for Arroyo. That would be a good deal, wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t it?