Rays to Sign Carlos Pena

Although this has been addressed in Jacob's opinion piece, and I'm sure all of you know about this already, it is still worth making a formal news item out of it...

Both area newspapers reported in this morning's edition that the Rays have signed former Tigers and Athletics 1B Carlos Pena to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The minor league deal adds Pena to the mix of possibilities for the Rays at first base this season, which already include Ty Wigginton, Greg Norton, Hee Seop Choi, and possibly Jorge Cantu, Jonny Gomes, and Joel Guzman, for a roster spot out of spring training. Choi and Pena were both brought in this offseason under minor league deals, while Wigginton, Cantu, and Gomes are possibilities to be moved over from other positions. Guzman is an in-house option from Durham.

Pena, 28, split last regular season between the Boston and New York Yankees organizations after being cut by the Detroit Tigers, whom he had played for regularly for the previous three and a half years after coming over in a trade from Oakland in 2002. He was originally drafted by the Texas Rangers in 1998 with the 10th overall pick in the draft. He rose quickly through the Texas minor leagues and made his major league debut at the end of the 2001 campaign, hitting .258/.361/.500 in a 62 at bat sample size with the Rangers. He was dealt to Oakland that offseason to become the apparent long term replacement for the departed Jason Giambi, however after hitting 218/.305/.419 in 124 ABs to start the season, he was demoted to Triple A Sacramento, and subsequently traded later that year along with Jeremy Bonderman to the Detroit Tigers.

And that is where Pena has gotten the bulk of his major league experience. Other than brief stints with AAA Toledo in 2003 and 2005, Pena was consistently a Tiger regular at first base from 2002-2005, putting up mostly decent numbers. His OPSs ranged from a high of .810 in 2004 to a low of .772 in 2003, resulting in a fairly consistent, if only average, level of production.

In spring of 2006, however, Pena was a late-March roster cut from the team, which instead planned to give Chris Shelton the majority of spring at bats. Pena was jobless, despite having hit for a line of .235/.325/.477 the year before. He wasn't jobless for very long, signing a minor league deal with the Yankees on April the 15th, however he wouldn't see a single at bat in Yankee Stadium, spending the entire year with AAA Columbus and hitting .260/.370/.454 over 381 ABs on the 16th of August. He signed a minor league contract with the Boston Red Sox soon after, and following a very impressive 37 AB stint with Pawtucket, was called up to the major leagues for the remainder of the month, in which he hit .273/.351/.424 in 33 ABs. The Red Sox did not tender him a contract following the season.

And so Pena comes to the Rays on a minor league deal, with reasonably average production from a major league first baseman. He brings over 500 games and 1685 ABs of major league experience with him, during which he has put up a career line of .243/.331/.459. His minor league numbers stand out as being the most impressive, however, as his career line in 2485 minor league ABs is .283/.393/.510. It is unclear how the Rays plan to get Pena at bats in their first base rotation in the spring, as it is to how often and in what situations they will play him in during the regular season. Considering both have strong OPSs in particular against right-handed pitchers, it would seem unlikely that any sort of platoon develops, and should one of the two minor league invitees make the final roster, it likely will spell the end of Greg Norton's days on the roster, as the team likely will aim for more flexibility outside of the first base types it has been stockpiling in free agency for the final roster.

As the contractual figures of this deal are released, this storyline will continue to be updated, either in this thread if it is released promptly, or in a subsequent post later on. Also, due to the flood of posts on Monday and Wednesday, and evening conflicts on Tuesday, I postponed my Scott Dohmann Transaction Recap. Look for that, and a subsequent one on this move, tomorrow afternoon and evening, respectively.

Resources
Carlos Pena [The Baseball Cube]
Rays, Pena Close To Deal [Tampa Tribune]
Rays to pad infield depth with Pena [St. Petersburg Times]

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