While it is not a foregone conclusion that Carlos Pena has played his final game in a Rays uniform, his second-straight disappointing season with the Rays suggests he will struggle in finding work in the AL East again. In 2011, Pena had a solid campaign with the Chicago Cubs, where he hit his way out of a rough first month (37 wRC+) to put together a comeback year (122 wRC+, 2.7 WAR).
But in 2010 and 2012, his previous two Rays seasons, Pena has been a more effective clubhouse presence than an effective first baseman. He had 105 wRC+, 1.2 WAR in 2010 and 98 wRC+, 0.9 WAR in 2012. This most recent season started in grand fashion. Not only did he clobber the Yankees opening day, but he hit 157 wRC+ through the first month. Then, he went cold.
From May through August, Pena had a high of 89 wRC+ and a low of 65 wRC+. His strikeout rate averaged over 30% and his ISO under .150. He finished the season strong, hitting 141 wRC+ in some of the most important games late in the season, but at that point, the damage of his worst offensive season had already been done, and Joe Maddon had reduced Pena to part-time play.
Carlos has been an important character in the Rays mythology. He holds the team record in single season home runs, OBP, SLG, OPS, walks, RBI and -- after his 2012 season -- strikeouts. He also has the Rays crown for home runs, walks and HBP in team history. If Tampa Bay were to retire the number of a player who has played only 5 seasons with their franchise (they've done crazier), then I suspect few would object to having Pena's 23 hanging high in the Trop.
That being said, Carlos Pena probably has expired his usefulness in the AL East, and possibly in the AL. In his one NL season in 2011, he improved his wRC+ by 17 points. If he can do that again in 2013, he could be a potentially key part of an NL team's lineup. But after his strikeout rate soared and walk and home run rates plummeted in 2012, it seems AL teams will not find him an attractive option.
Here is how the DRB staff graded Pena's 2012 performance:
|Baserunning||Fielding||Throwing||Hitting with power||Hitting for average|
Replacing Casey Kotchman's bat with Pena's was supposed to be an upgrade, which -- given Kotchman's 71 wRC+ through 500 PA in 2012 -- it probably was, but I think few on the staff did not miss Kotchman's glove. Pena, according to our ratings, was about an average defensive first baseman. UZR had him at 3.2 runs above average while DRS had him at 0 runs. Total Zone had him at -6 runs, but TZ also suggests he's been worth positive defense only twice in his career, so take that for what you will.
Either way, Pena's defensive did not wow us. I think his strongest traits have always been his range (which is solid) and ability to dig balls (which is excellent). The latter talent proved especially important during a stretch of increased circus throws from Elliot Johnson, Brooks Conrad and the sort, but overall, Pena was no Kotch with the glove.
And since he put up his worst walk and strikeout rates since 2006, power was all Pena had left. The one trait we graded out above average was Pena's power, but even then, with a 56 ranking, he sits behind Ben Zobrist, Luke Scott and even Brandon Allen in our power numbers.
It is hard to say what the Rays will do with their first base position in 2013. There is always a chance the Rays re-sign Pena to a heavily discounted rate, but given that Pena is a Scott Boras client, it seems likely some team out will be willing to slide $5 million or more his way, and the Rays cannot afford Pena's volatility at that price. So maybe the Rays bid fare thee well to Carlos and opt to throw stuff at a wall for the corner spot.
But whatever happens, it will be great to have Pena's 182 strikeouts behind us, yet hard hard to anyone else at first base and in the dugout.