The Texas Rangers selected Carlos Pena in the first round of the 1998 amateur draft. After three solid seasons in the minors, Pena made his big-league debut in September of 2001. That year he hit three home runs in 62 at bats and compiled a .361 on-base percentage. He was 23 years old.
During the offseason he was dealt to the A’s in a deal that included Ryan Ludwick, Gerald Laird, Jason Hart, and Mario Ramos. Half way through 2002, Pena was sent packing once again, this time to the Tigers in a three-way trade with the A’s and Yankees. The mega-deal involved some interesting names: Jeff Weaver, Ted Lilly, Jeremy Bonderman, Jason Arnold, and the great John-Ford Griffin.
Though he changed teams twice, Pena saw plenty of playing time in 2002, racking up decent numbers in 397 at bats: .242/.316/.448. His walk rate was respectable at one every 10 plate appearances.
Pena spent the next three seasons in Detroit and showed steady improvement, particularly when it came to free passes. In 1,372 plate appearances he drew 154 walks. Contact was an issue but his power was steady, as Pena swatted 63 homers over the same period.
Pena struggled in the batting average department in 2005. His .235 mark was a career low as an everyday player. Apparently that performance was enough to discourage the Tigers, who released Pena on March 26, 2006.
Stops in Boston and New York were disappointing and brief, but Pena found new life after signing with Tampa Bay in 2007. The former first-round pick exploded that season:
.287/.411/.627, 46 home runs, 103 BB
The 28-year-old slugger had finally fulfilled his potential (the dreaded P word).
The next two seasons were productive, but not spectacular:
- .247/.377/.494, 31 home runs, 96 BB
- .227/.356/.537, 39 home runs, 87 BB
The Rays were winning, and Pena played a key role. In 2010, he took a major step backward. The power and plate discipline were still there (28 home runs and 87 BB), but the batting average plummeted to an embarrassing .196. After filing for free agency, Pena was signed to a one-year, $10-million experiment by the Chicago Cubs.
So what does 2011 hold for Carlos Pena? Supporters predict something close to his productive years in Tampa Bay. Detractors are concerned about his sinking batting average and high strike-out rate.
Considering the options at 1B, I think the Cubs did quite well. Is $10 million too much for a player who hit under .200? Perhaps. However, batting average only means so much for a hitter with tremendous power and a knack for drawing walks. In addition, the Cubs desperately needed a LH power bat. Throw in a solid glove, and Pena should help the Northsiders in 2011.
Worst-case scenario, Pena falls on his face in the National League and the Cubs move on very quickly. I don’t think that will happen, but I also thought Milton Bradley would hit. Hopefully I’m right for a change.