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Not So Fast My Friend: Why The Rays Should Re-Sign Carlos Pena

Over the winter, the Rays front office, Scott Boras, and Carlos Pena will have to determine what Pena’s value may be on the open market, what his value is to the Rays, and whether or not Pena and the Rays have a strong desire and the economic resources to forge a contract to keep Pena in Tampa. It will not be an easy task for the Rays to replace Pena’s power in the lineup, find a replacement who can provide solid defense, or find anyone more passionate about playing for the Rays organization. On the open market, Pena may get an offer from another organization that would be foolish for the Rays to entertain matching, which is why I would suggest signing Pena within the first five days after the World Series to a two year extension (possibly incentive laden) that would leave all parties satisfied.

In 2010, the Rays hit 160 home runs which was just above the league average of 158 home runs. Carlos Pena (28) and Carl Crawford (19) combined to hit 47 of those home runs and it is a certainty that Carl Crawford will not be back.   The home run may not be the most important part of winning for the Rays, but the five worst home run hitting teams in the AL last year were Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Royals, Oakland A’s, and the Seattle Mariners.  The overall winning percentage for those teams was .425 with only one team, the Oakland A’s having a .500 record (81-81). If the Rays do not sign Pena, where do the Rays find the 25% of the power they are losing from their 2010 team?

Currently, the pieces are not in place to quickly transition the first base position from Pena to someone from the minor league system, nor do I feel that the Rays have an in-house replacement for the 20-30 home runs that Pena will provide in the 2011 season. Some may suggest an uptick in home runs from Joyce, Zobrist, Upton, Rodriguez, or Longoria, others may believe the power will come from another free agent signing, but I believe that the most certain power uptick may come from a healthy Carlos Pena with something to prove in 2011. Leslie Anderson and Jose Ruiz may be part of the first base solution in the future, but I’d like to have the certainty of Pena in the lineup as Anderson is worked in at DH/1b/LF and Ruiz gets valuable minor league finishing.  The contractual obligations to Anderson (4 years, 3.75 million) and Ruiz (4-year, 4 million [option to be determined by November 15th]) should not make Carlos Pena too rich for the Rays to bring back in 2011. It is my belief that neither Carlos Pena nor the Rays are ready or willing to close the book on his career in Tampa.

A quick look back at the history of first base for the Rays is included below:

Carlos Pena has solidified first base since 2007, the last man to provide such stability was Fred McGriff from 1998 through 2001. Overall, first base has been an area of power, productivity, and stability for the Rays franchise since they began play in 1998. The group of first baseman to appear in over 100 games in a season in team history (including Pena) has averaged 24 home runs and 81 RBI and put up a slash line of .260/.359/.401.

Five men have appeared in 100 games or more and only 9 men who played over 50% of their games at first base have appeared in more than five games in a season. The roll call includes Fred McGriff (1998-2001), Scott McClain (1998), Steve Cox (1998, 1999, 2001-2002), Travis Lee (2003, 2005-2006), Tino Martinez (2004), Eduardo Perez (2005), Dan Johnson (2008), Chris Richard (2009), and Carlos Pena (2006-2010).  Others to appear in at least  10 games at first base includes Paul Sorrento (1998), Herbert Perry (1999), Aubrey Huff (2001 through 2005), Robert Fick (2004), Ty Wiggington (2006 and 2007), Greg Norton (2006), Erik Hinske (2008), Willy Aybar (2008, 2009),  Ben Zobrist and Dan Johnson (2010). The primary first basemen in Rays history are:

  • Fred McGriff (1998-2001) appeared in a total of 577 games, hit 99 Home Runs with 359 RBIs and put up a slash line of .291/.380/.444. McGriff would be traded to the Chicago Cubs (for Manny Aybar and Jason Smith) in July of 2001 after losing much of his playing time to Steve Cox.
  • Steve Cox (2001- 2002) appeared in 256 games, hit 28 home runs with 123 RBI and put up a slash line of .255/.327/.408. Steve Cox would depart Tampa Bay after the 2002 season to play for the Yokohama Bay Stars of the Japan Central League.
  • Travis Lee (2003) appeared in 145 games, hit 19 HR with 70 RBI and put up a slash line of .275/.348/.459. At the end of the 2003 season, Travis Lee signed as a free agent with the New York Yankees.
  • In November of 2003, the Rays would send Evan Rust and John Paul Davis to the St. Louis Cardinals for Tino Martinez.  In 2004, Martinez appeared in 138 games, hit 23 home runs with 76 RBI and put up a slash line of .262/.362/.461. Martinez would depart as a free agent at the end of the 2004 season.
  • In 2005 Travis Lee would return to the Rays via free agency. The Rays would sign Eduardo Perez (2005) to be the right-handed part of the 1b platoon. In 2005, Lee and Perez would combine to hit 23 home runs with 77 RBI and put up a slash line of .267/.324/.446. Eduardo Perez would leave after the 2005 season.
  • In 2006, Travis Lee would see most of the time at first base and hit 11 home runs with 31 RBI and put up a slash line of .224/.312/.364.
  • Carlos Pena (2007-2010) has appeared in 566 games, hit 144 Home Runs with 407 RBI and put up a slash line of .238/.368/.516.