Monday, December 13, 2010

Hendry inks rare one-year deal to fill first base void

When I heard the Cubs had signed Carlos Pena to a one-year deal to play first base, I joked that the deal was probably still backloaded, and that Pena would get $1 million through August and the other $9 million in September. Turns out Hendry did find a way to backload a one-year deal--Pena will get $5 million next year and $5 million in January of 2012. It goes to show you just how little wiggle room Hendry has with the payroll right now.

While I don't think Pena had any business getting $10 million--he essentially didn't take a pay cut at all despite a near-career low .325 OBP--I love that it's just a one year deal and think that overall Pena will be a good addition to the team. My favorite part of his skill set? His defense. He won the Gold Glove in 2008, and after we've been spoiled by Derrek Lee for the last seven years, it will be very nice to see a minimal downgrade at perhaps the most important position on the field.

Word around the Internets is that Pena is a good clubhouse presence as well, which is always a positive. And while the Cubs have sometimes blown out of proportion their need for left-handed hitters, it will be nice to have a power bat from the left side in the lineup.

Let's get to the down side. This is the best way I can think to say it: Pena hit for a lower average than Cesar Izturis last year. But not just lower ... 34 points lower. I suppose I could have described Pena's struggles by pointing out that he had the lowest batting average among qualified hitters in the AL, but I think the whole Izturis thing provides a little better perspective.

But the thing is, we're budding sabermatricians here, and we don't really care about average, right? Pena's OBP was .325, which isn't good but is actually sort of impressive given his abysmal average. Get this: In each of his four years in Tampa Bay, Pena drew more walks than either Derrek Lee or Aramis Ramirez have ever drawn with the Cubs. So it's not that Pena is insanely impatient; he just really struggled to get hits last year.

But he has two big positives working for him heading into 2011:

1) He battled plantar fascitis in his foot last year, something he says is completely healed now.
2) His BABIP (batting average on balls in play), which is generally viewed as a stat that should even out over time, was just .222 last season, easily the lowest of his career. It was .250 in 2009, and at least .284 every other year of his career. Translation: Pena had really bad luck last year.

I don't want it to seem like I'm suggesting Pena is some phenomenal hitter who simply crossed a black cat's path last year. Pena will have a low average in 2011, but he's very likely to have a decent OBP. He's also very likely to put up power numbers; even last year he hit 28 home runs and had 84 RBI, and he had at least 31 home runs and 100 RBI in each of the three seasons prior.

Get ready to be frustrated at times, however: Pena also struck out more times last year than any Cub.

The bottom line: Pena will likely go through some ugly slumps in which he strikes out a lot and struggles to get hits. He will also go on some tears, banging home runs out of Wrigley and drawing walks with his strong sense of the strike zone. And he'll play solid defense at first base. Heading into a season in which the Cubs appear to have little chance of competing for a playoff spot, $10 million seems like an awful lot to spend on a one-year rental. But I think we'll have mostly positive things to say about him when 2011 is through.

By the way, there are now four Carloses on the Cubs' 25-man roster, which has to be some sort of record.

No comments:

Post a Comment