ORLANDO (WSCR) – Jim Hendry had reason to smile late Tuesday night. He landed his primary target to fill the Cubs’ gaping void at first base, getting free agent Carlos Pena signed to a one-year contract.
Mike Quade said earlier in the day that he’s intent on competing with the top teams in the NL Central despite a seemingly thin roster, and a strong season from Pena would go a long way toward that goal.
Scott Boras, the agent for Pena, had long ago told reporters he expected to sign a multi-year deal for Pena, who last season helped Tampa Bay win the AL East by hitting 28 home runs and driving in 84 runs. But Pena didn’t have the market value that most people would have expected because he batted only .196, the lowest average for a hitter with 502 plate appearances (the standard to qualify for a batting title) since Rob Deer in 1993, and the fact that there is a surplus of left-handed hitting free agents on the market.
Boston filled its need with a trade for Adrian Gonzalez, leaving Pena, Adam LaRoche, Russell Branyan, Nick Johnson and Casey Kotchman unsigned entering Tuesday. Pena decided to accept a reported one-year, $10-million offer from the Cubs after Boras concluded he was unlikely to land the multi-year deal he was seeking.
Pena’s left-handed bat balances out a lineup that will rely heavily on right-handed hitters Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd and Starlin Castro. The Cubs had no significant internal options other than Tyler Colvin, who played only outfield last season.
Because the Cubs’ payroll restrictions are tight, they may have to move a contract or two to squeeze Pena onto the roster. They have had discussions at the winter meetings with Detroit and other teams about left-hander Tom Gorzelanny, who is arbitration eligible after earning $800,000 last season. They reportedly are willing to pay some of Kosuke Fukudome’s $14.5-million salary but it doesn’t appear they’ve found any matches for his service.
Pena’s 2010 OPS was only .732, lower than the departed Derrek Lee’s .751 in 109 games before being traded to Atlanta. The Cubs are banking on him elevating his performance.
If he does, they’ll have to decide whether to sign him to a contract extension, trade him at mid-season or allow him to return to the free-agent pool. There’s very little risk to this deal, however, because it expires after 2011.
Pena was not offered arbitration by Tampa Bay so the Rays will not get any compensation picks. He was a Type B free agent, so the Cubs wouldn’t have lost a pick even if the Rays had offered him arbitration.