After speculating on ESPNFlorida.com this morning about a potential reunion between Carlos Pena and the Tampa Bay Rays, multiple outlets are reporting that the two sides have agreed on a one-year deal worth $7.25 million. Pena will make about $3 million less than he did he made with the Chicago Cubs in 2011, but Jon Heyman tweeted his decision may have had more to do with a desire to return to Tampa Bay than it did with money.
Some will feel that a $7.25 million guarantee is a steep price to pay for a player who batted .225 with 161 strikeouts last season. Meanwhile, due to an excellent walk rate, Pena maintained a .357 on-base percentage which was well over the league average of .321. In addition to his patience, Rays’ fans are familiar with Pena’s above-average power which I explored in more detail this morning.
Pena, 33, continues to post subpar batting averages (.225 in 2011) but his fantastic walk rate (16.7%) and power (58 extra-base hits) remains attractive. Some have expressed fear about his 2011 power being a byproduct of Wrigley Fields’ friendly confines; however, 16 of his 28 bombs came on the road and his .258 ISO away from Chicago (Isolated Power is slugging percentage minus batting average to measure raw power without the inclusion of singles) was the seventh highest for major leaguers (min. 300 road plate appearances).
Pena is not without flaws. Aside from the strikeouts, he continues to struggle against left-handed pitching and may need to sit against tougher southpaws. However, at $7.25 million, the Rays are banking on Pena providing an upgrade over last year’s first baseman Casey Kotchman. Kotchman had a career year with the Rays, hitting .306/.378/.422 in 146 games; however, without much change in his hitting profile, teams appear to be wary about his production going forward. He is likely to out hit Pena in terms of average, but would need another stellar season to keep pace with Pena’s on-base abilities and is no match in terms of power production. Defensively, the gap is much closer than fielding percentage would suggest.
With Pena and Luke Scott in the mix, the winter long search for offense appears to be over for Andrew Friedman. If both players perform to their expected abilities – and salary requirements – the upgrade could be substantial at both positions. In addition to the boost in offense, Friedman was able to maintain defensive continuity; something he strived for from the onset of the offseason.
Welcome back, Carlos.