Cubs finalize deal with Pena
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org December 8, 2010 2:10AM
Carlos Pena will fill the void left at first base by Derrek Lee and should provide the Cubs some left-handed power. | AP
Updated: December 8, 2010 11:42AM
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Cubs got the player they targeted coming into the winter meetings Wednesday, when they finalized a one-year, $10-million deal with free agent first baseman Carlos Pena.
The deal includes deferred salary, according to a source, which helps keep some flexibility in play as the Cubs try to add pitching to a payroll budget that’s already nearing its ceiling.
Pena, 32, is looking to raise his long-term market value after production declines in recent years that included a .196 average in 2010 for the Tampa Bay Rays and a drop from his American League-leading 39 homers in 2009 to 28 last season.
One source from Tampa Bay also said his well regarded defensive skills also declined by late last season. But the Cubs’ scouting reports on him remained strong, especially on fielding skills that earned him a Gold Glove in 2008.
Pena also dealt with a nagging, painful case of plantar fasciitis last season.
``I think it’s good for both sides,’’ said Cubs’ general manager Jim Hendry, who reached agreement with Pena’s agent, Scott Boras, late Tuesday night and hopes to make at least one more move before the meetings convene Thursday. ``You’ve got a power hitter that for four years has averaged 36 home runs and is a real good defender. I look at the situation a lot like [third baseman Adrian] Beltre a year ago when he went to Boston [to re-prove his value on a one-year deal]. Carlos had a few nagging injuries and also had a year where he didn’t hit with the average he used to. He found a club that’s a good fit for him, has a lot of respect for [hitting coach] Rudy [Jaramillo], and I think he feels like one good year and he’s back on track to play quite a bit longer.’’
If he performs even close to the level of that four-year average, Pena gives the Cubs a left-handed, middle-order power threat they haven’t had in recent memory and – depending on how well they can bolster the pitching – could in a best-case scenario help boost the team back into the upper end of the National League Central Division.
``It was a very worthwhile signing on a one-year contract,’’ Hendry said. ``At the same time it was a position we really needed to fill, and he fit the requirements we were looking for. We’ve been looking for that kind of [left-handed] power for a while, plus had has the combination of outstanding defense and that he’s a terrific character guy.
``We thought it was a real good fit, and we hope it works at a level we expect it to.’’
Once Lance Berkman signed with the St. Louis Cardinals (one year, $8 million) in the past week, Pena became the Cubs’ focus in their efforts to replace Derrek Lee at first base.
Despite reported interest in free agent Adam LaRoche, the Dodgers’ James Loney and others, the Cubs never got deep into talks over any of those players.
Hendry now turns his attention to pitching, hoping to land a right-handed reliever and a starter.
Free agent Brandon Webb, who hasn’t pitched since Opening Day of 2009 because of a shoulder injury, is said to be healthy enough to pitch by the start of this season and remains in the Cubs’ sights. But any potential one-year deal there isn’t likely to happen until sometime after the Winter Meetings.
``We don’t plan on being finished,’’ Hendry said. ``We’ll continue to meet with clubs while we’re here for trades. … We’ve got two or three things we’d like to look into, and maybe we do one more before we leave here. I don’t know if that’s possible. We’ve also kept some irons in the fire on free agent pitching, too.’’