Carlos Pena to Sign With Chicago Cubs | The Process Report

Carlos Pena to Sign With Chicago Cubs

Note: Pena has agreed to terms with the Cubs. One-year, $10 million. The following is from the DRB 2010 publication, celebrating Pena’s time with the Rays.

Millions grow up reading Ernest Thayer’s classic Casey at the Bat. Thayer pens the tale of a hulking, perhaps menacing in any other context, slugger with a smile of “Christian charity” doing cowhide battle with the enemy in the ultimate war for sleepy little Mudville. Casey loses this particular duel by striking out. The town becomes blue. Casey likely goes on a drinking binge – paying his own tab, mind you –, and shortly thereafter the Mudville team folds.

Okay, perhaps that’s melodramatic. The image of Casey sticks with the reader more than any other aspect of the tale. And because of that, it seems safe to say that Carlos Pena is the closest anyone will find to Mighty Casey. Albert Pujols is a better player and means more to St. Louis than Pena does to St. Petersburg. Pujols is too good to be Casey though. Pena is a flawed hitter, one constantly near the bottom of the league in contact rates. He hits majestic home runs, smiles, and always seems to come up when the game is on the line. Sometimes with the bases loaded. Sometimes he strikes out, sometimes he homers, sometimes he walks, but he always gets another at-bat. And he always smiles.

Originally a first round selection by the Texas Rangers, Pena would find himself traded to the Oakland Athletics for a myriad of prospects and future major leaguers in January 2002. Six months later he was on the move again, this time being traded to the Detroit Tigers. After three years of hitting home runs and posting above average OPS, Pena would be released. He would latch on with the New York Yankees and then Boston Red Sox. Both wound up letting him slip through the cracks, back into free agency.

The Rays inked him to a minor league deal and Pena would compete with another former top prospect with a powerful left-handed stroke for a roster spot. Hee Seop Choi is probably a nice enough guy and a decent enough ballplayer, but he stood no chance. Then again, neither did Pena. Before Greg Norton’s knee went out, Pena was told he wouldn’t be on the Major League roster.

After being cut in spring 2007, Pena spoke about his visions. Dreams, he said, that had him standing with the other 24 Devil Rays along the third base line in Yankee Stadium. Standing underneath a flyover and the alongside the pageantry while being introduced as the Rays’ starting first baseman. His vision was off by a few months, but Pena’s Joan of Arc phase quickly turned into Pena’s Launcher of Arcs phase. 46 home runs later, Pena would have one of the greatest breakout seasons in recent memory. From non-roster invitee to nearly four dozen blasts, everything came together for Pena.

That off-season, the Rays would extend Pena for three seasons. His agent being Scott Boras raised concerns about the possibility. At least one source with knowledge of the situation detailed the negotiations between the club and Boras taking an odd turn that eventually lead to Pena himself intervening in order to stay. Maybe Pena receives a few million more if he keeps quiet and lets Boras do his work, maybe he’s not with the Rays. Who knows. Such a bullet point helps his Rays’ legacy though.

Few players produce more positive vibes. It goes beyond the smiles (although he does lead the team in : )%). As an extension, fewer players have a discernibly lower hate rate than Pena. Opposing fans offer plenty of distaste when Pena disposes of a fastball into their general vicinity, but that’s about as scornful as they get. The hedonic value of seeing Pena hit a homer is higher than that of say, seeing Chris Richard hit one; even when you adjust for situation, likelihood, and so on. We like Pena more. Not just because he’s a better player either.

If that reasoning seems familiar to those who lived through the David Eckstein love affair or even Brett Favre, it’s because it is. Commonly though, players of Pena’s skill set aren’t thought of in such graces. Strikeouts aren’t the new black. They are, however, becoming more accepted by the mainstream as being only marginally worse than any other out. Pena has found a way to avoid the ravenous detractors by hitting homers, smiling a lot, and doing ridiculous pre-game dances in the dugout. Pena is 13 trots while holding onto his ear flap away from being the Rays’ all-time home run leader. Here’s hoping he gets the record — even if it means a few strikeouts along the way.

As for Casey, the whole immorality thing seemed to work out okay.

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