The Rays continued their January search for offense yesterday, signing former Rays slugger Carlos Pena. Tampa Bay’s search for a first baseman is finally over, and the Rays have to be satisfied with the move. Pena, who played for the Rays from 2007-2010, agreed to a one-year contract worth $7.25 million. The deal is great news for both the Rays and Pena. By signing Pena, the Rays filled in a big hole on their roster. They picked up a power-hitting and run-producing first baseman, which was exactly what they needed. Pena seemed even more thrilled when learning he would reunite with the Rays this season. Pena texted “Sooooo excited … !!!!!” when first finding out about the news. The joyful reaction is not a surprise, as all of Pena’s best memories were during his four years in Tampa.
Pena, now 33 years old, smashed 144 homers and 407 RBI’s with a career line of .238/.368/.516 during his four seasons for the Rays. During those seasons, Pena collected a Silver Slugger Award, a Gold Glove Award, and an All Star selection. He also put up some impressive home-run totals, belting 46 dingers in 2007 and hitting a league-leading 39 round-trippers in 2009. His big bat in the middle of the lineup and his slick fielding at first were both a huge part of the Rays success in past years.
When signing Pena, the Rays essentially picked the veteran first baseman over Casey Kotchman. Kotchman had a surprisingly successful season in 2011, batting a high .306 average while playing terrific defense. Did the Rays make the right choice by choosing Pena instead of Kotchman?
Considering the offensive numbers starting first basemen are expected to put out in the MLB, Pena is definitely the more valuable player. A healthy Carlos Pena pretty much guarantees you 25+ homers and 80+ RBI’s. Kotchman is a much better contact hitter who’ll probably strikeout a lot less and hit for a higher average, but he simply is not capable of producing as much runs as Pena in the middle of the Rays’ lineup. Ten home runs with 48 RBI’s and .306 average is numbers you more often see from a middle infielder, not a starting first baseman. I don’t want to take anything away from Kotchman’s excellent 2011 season, though, especially considering he didn’t enter the season with high expectations.
In conclusion, the Rays are doing a great job of continuing to add bats to their roster. Bringing back Pena is a real sigh of relief for Rays Republic after long winter months without a first baseman. It will be fun to watch Pena return to Tampa in 2012, where he is needed more than ever before.