Carlos Pena's batting average may not be impressive, but the power numbers certainly are, as well as the left-handed hitter's ability to play Gold Glove-caliber first base. That's what sold the Cubs on the free agent, who signed a one-year, $10 million deal on Wednesday.
The Cubs and Pena's agent, Scott Boras, met early in the day to finalize details of the contract, and they introduced him at a news conference at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel. Pena lives in the Tampa, Fla., area.
"I think when I looked at all of my options, and the teams that were interested, I just thought this was the perfect fit for me." said Pena.
Some of the $10 million will be deferred, although not over a long period of time.
"I think it's good for both sides," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said Wednesday. "You've got a power hitter that for four years has averaged 36 home runs -- a real good defender. ... I look at his situation a lot like [Adrian] Beltre's a year ago, when he went to Boston. Carlos had a few nagging injuries and didn't hit for even the average he used to, so he found a club that was really a good fit for him.
"We like the shortness of [the deal], and at the same time it was a position we really needed, and he fits the requirements that were important," Hendry said.
Pena, 32, has averaged 36 homers the past four seasons, including a high of 46 in 2007 with the Rays and an American League-leading 39 in '09. He's also averaged 93 walks, 24 doubles and nearly 102 RBIs in that same time frame, compiling an .884 OPS.
He ranks fourth in home runs and sixth in RBIs over the past four years among all first basemen. Pena's average of one home run per 13.20 at-bats in that span leads all Major League first basemen, while his one RBI per 4.71 at-bats (trailing only Ryan Howard) and his one walk per 6.39 plate appearances each rank second among all ML first basemen since the start of the 2007 campaign.
In 2010, Pena was limited to 144 games after battling plantar fascia in his right foot, including a stint on the 15-day disabled list in August. Despite his injury, he reached 28 home runs, 84 RBIs and 87 walks, one of only seven players in all of baseball to reach those totals and the only player to do so in fewer than 150 games played. The list includes Jose Bautista, Adrian Gonzalez, Albert Pujols, Mark Teixeira, Miguel Cabrera and Joey Votto.
Pena is exactly what the Cubs are looking for -- as long as you don't factor in the .196 average.
"It's hard to find," Hendry said. "That's why [left-handed sluggers] get locked up for as long as they do -- the [Ryan] Howards, [Adrian] Gonzalez, those kind of guys. We've lacked that. We've been looking for that kind of power for a while. Plus he has the combination of outstanding defense and is a terrific guy character-wise. We thought it was a real good fit and hope it works at the level we expect it to. There's a history of people like this that go somewhere for a year and then maximize their value for the future."
An All-Star in 2009, Pena won a Gold Glove in '08 and a Silver Slugger Award in '07. He began his career with the Rangers but was traded to the Athletics in January 2002, and traded again that year to the Tigers, where he played from 2002-05. He's also played for the Red Sox (2006) and Rays (2007-10). He received $10.125 million last year from Tampa Bay.
He's also been released twice -- once in March 2006 by the Tigers and again in August of that year by the Yankees. He had a clause in his contract in '06 that allowed him to become a free agent if the Yankees didn't put him on the 25-man roster by Aug. 15. Pena actually lost out in his bid to make the Rays' roster in March 2007 to Greg Norton.
At the time, Pena told Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon that he'd be back and promised he was going to "make an impact." Hours later, Norton injured his knee and Pena was on the Opening Day roster. He did make an impact, hitting 46 homers and driving in 121 runs.
"We owe a lot of this to Greg Norton," Maddon said then. "We got lucky."
Pena also has a reputation as a great clubhouse guy.
"For me, a leader has got to be willing to give himself up for somebody else first, and Carlos does that," Maddon said in an interview in 2008. "He makes people feel much more important than he is."
Pena also ranks among the elite fielding first basemen, which would benefit the Cubs, who have been spoiled by Gold Glove-winner Derrek Lee at first base for the past seven seasons. Lee was traded to the Braves in August.
"We obviously have certain needs, and we're going to try to stick to that until we have a conclusion," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said about the club's offseason plans.
Pena helped lead the Rays to a World Series appearance in 2008 after batting .247 with 24 doubles, 31 home runs, 102 RBIs, 96 walks and a .377 on-base percentage in 139 games. He made it three seasons in a row with at least 30 home runs, 100 RBIs and 24 doubles in '09, tied for the league lead in home runs with Teixeira despite playing in just 135 games, his fewest games played in a season as a Ray.
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