Could Pena be gone in 2010?
Mike Carlson / AP
It is kind of weird to think of this Tampa Bay Rays squad without a few of its veteran players gone before the 2010 season. It is not like with the Free Agent market ready to heat up on Friday the Rays are looking to unload or even sign someone of extreme value to replace a current Rays player, but would you see the Tampa Bay Rays in the same powerful light if they were missing a player like Carlos Pena?
When I remember back over the last two seasons for memorable Rays moments, or game changing plays, Pena’s name seems to be one of the first ones to pop into my mind every time. His style of cool,calm and collected attitude during the game has taken both himself and this team to new heights since the Rays signed him to a minor league deal several years ago. And Pena’s laid-back style both at the plate and in the field has risen his game to extreme heights while he has been here.
He has been the upbeat and soft-spoken leader of this Rays clubhouse ever since he stepped into it back in 2007. Who can forget his finest moment of upbeat personality when even after he was told by Rays Manager Joe Maddon that he was being optioned to the minor leagues before the end of Spring Training in 2007, Pena remained focused and clear that he would soon see his Rays teammates. And who can ever forget when Pena disclosed his revelation of a premonition during a night time dream of him being on that charter flight with his Rays teammates to New York to start the 2007 season.
That in itself tells me that this Rays team might have been his squad all along, and we were just passengers on his ride to the top. From the beginning of his rebirth in the MLB by winning the 2007 Comeback Player of the Year award, to his first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award, the Rays GQ-styled first baseman has gained not only the respect of the fans, but of MLB players throughout the league. And I have a feeling his 2009 All Star selection is not the last time we will see Pena accepting an award…..not by a long shot.
So when a fellow Rays blog mentioned that maybe it was time for the Rays to consider trading Pena before his contract is up at the end of 2010, it kind of shocked me that we might be seeing the end to another era here in Tampa Bay. That after all the growth we have seen by Pena and this team, we might end up seeing him traded away late in the 2010 season, or maybe even packing up and saying goodbye at this time next season.
And right now both those notions do not seem like a logical, rationale thing to happen, but the reality is that Pena is in the last year of his contract ( $10.125 million), and his agent is Scott Boras who is renowned to being hard pressed to seeing even a dollar squeeze past his clients. That at some point from today on we might have to consider that Pena might not start, or even finish the 2010 season wearing a Rays jersey.
It is an unfortunate fact of baseball life that players leave or get traded at points in their careers. But you got the feeling here that maybe Pena might have finally found a comfortable spot to place his glove and bat every day, and maybe selfishly I wanted him to retire a Ray. But the stark reality is that Pena has a few years left in his tank, and maybe he will not be within the Rays budget restrictions in 2011. Just like Crawford, it might be an instant reality check that the team will have to find options and create fluid change if Pena were to leave the squad.
But is this the right time to be considering such a drastic change like this? I mean the guy is about to finally get that cast and those pins pulled from his hand and begin some initial hitting drills. Can he have any real high-side trade value before he reports to Spring Training? And even if a team did consider him before the 2010 season, isn’t his $ 10 million contract a monetary distraction to most teams?
But considering the offensive awards and the defensive accolades Pena has received the last few seasons, his contract might be considerably an extreme value right now in comparison with his colleagues around the Major Leagues. I would think Boras for one thinks Pena’s current worth is “out of whack” when considering his talent level and potential.
Pena rebuilt his baseball career when he signed with the Rays in 2007. He came to us as a player who was released by the Yankees and Boston farm systems as a secondary player, and maybe both of those franchises at the time felt Pena might not reach his potential again. But the stark reality is the correlation of Pena and the Rays up-surge happened at the same time. Both the player and the team began to excel and blast past expectations. Ahh, what a difference a year can make in a players career.
I do not want to consider a 2010 season without Pena’s solid defense at first base. No disrespect to Rays players Willy Aybar or Ben Zobrist, but it is hard to replace a diamond with cubic zurconia and feel the same sparkle off the ring. Zorilla could be a solution, and could grow into the position in 2010, but why test fate now? Why would you consider trading the top offensive weapon on your team the last few years when the corner has finally been taken by the Rays.
And hasn’t Pena been a great piece of the puzzle to put in the lineup behind Evan Longoria and make teams pitch to the young star. If Pena was not in the Rays lineup, would Longoria get the same pitches if Zobrist or even Burrell followed him in the lineup? I would think Pena was the perfect piece to put in that spot because of his potential to turn on any pitch and send it deep.
I really hope that at some point in the 2010 season I do not have to write a blog telling people why I am going to miss Pena. But we all know with the realities of this baseball business, anyone can be replaced in a moments notice. 2010 is not even here yet and I can feel the winds of change in the air. This coming season is an important one in the Rays development. Changes is in the air, but hopefully it will be later and not earlier in the season.
But in this ever changing business of baseball these days, you never know what will happen. And with the completion of the fast and furious trade of Rays veteran starting pitcher Scott Kazmir right before the end of August 2009, we know that no one is safe, not even an offensive/defensive weapon like Pena. But hopefully we will be able to say goodbye this time. Hopefully if something was to happen and Pena was to leave the Rays before the end of 2010, we will get to see that smile and maybe even see Pena do that dance one more time.