Signing Pena a low-risk, high reward move by the Cubs

May 14, 2010 - St. Petersburg, FLORIDA, UNITED STATES - epa02157685 Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Carlos Pena reacts after striking out against the Seattle Mariners during the sixth inning of a Major League Baseball game in St. Petersburg, Florida, USA, 14 May 2010.

Midway through next season, people may look back at the deal the Cubs just gave Carlos Pena and consider it a huge bargain.

Chicago inked the former Rays’ first baseman to a one-year, $10 million contract on Wednesday and while the dollar amount is a little high, the Cubs did very well no matter how he plays next season.

Pena batted just .196 in 2010 and struck out 158 times. But he slugged 28 home runs and walked 87 times, so his numbers weren’t all bad. He was also reportedly dealing with plantar fasciitis, which could be one of the reasons he struggled at the dish.

The key to this deal is that it’s only for one year. Pena was hoping to sign a multi-year contract but instead inked a one-year deal so that he can build up his value before next winter. He knew his 2010 numbers wouldn’t allow him to cash in this offseason, so signing a one-year deal made sense for him given his current situation.

For the Cubs, they get a player who will be trying to earn a multi-year deal next winter. In general, players in contract years typically perform better because they knew there are no guarantees (contract wise) behind that season. If Pena rebounds to his ’07-09 production when he averaged .252 with 39 home runs and 101 RBI per year (along with 95 walks), then the Cubs could sign him to an extension. If he flops or never finds his form, so what? They’ll be rid of him in a year and can move on.

These are the types of moves that GM Jim Hendry needs to make more. Instead of just throwing millions of dollars and long-term contracts at free agents (Alfonso Soriano anyone?), the Cubs would be better served to build through their farm system and plug holes with low-risk deals like this one for Pena.

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Hey, there’s the Rays’ offense!

Tampa Bay Rays' Carlos Pena hits a two-run home run in the ninth inning, scoring team-mate Sean Rodriguez during play against the Texas Rangers in Game 3 of their American League Division Series MLB baseball game in Arlington, Texas October 9, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Stone (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

It took two games and the threat of elimination but the Rays’ offense has finally showed up to the ALDS.

Behind Carl Crawford’s 2-for-5 day, the Rays beat the Rangers 6-3 on Saturday to cut Texas’ lead in the series down to 2-1. Crawford also hit a long ball and made a great sliding catch to rob Josh Hamilton of an eighth inning hit.

Perhaps the biggest surprise from the game was that Carlos Pena actually found the stadium and showed up. He went 2-for-3 with three RBI, two runs scored and also walked twice. His single to right in the eighth inning tied the game at 2-2 and then his homer in the ninth gave Tampa a 6-2 cushion heading into the last half inning.

Matt Garza contributed to the win, although he wasn’t nearly as sharp as he could been. He gave up two runs on five hits over six innings while striking out four and giving up a home run to Ian Kinsler. For the longest time, it appeared as though Kinsler’s dinger would hold up and the Rangers would proceed with the sweep.

Texas will have another chance today at 1:07PM ET to finish off the Rays for good. Tommy Hunter will oppose Wade Davis, who finished the season with a 12-10 record and a 4.07 ERA for the Rays.

What happened to the Rays’ offense?

Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher David Price reacts after he was taken from the game against the Texas Rangers during their American League Division Series MLB baseball game in St. Petersburg, Florida October 6, 2010. REUTERS/Scott Audette (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

The above picture is not of an offensive player for the Rays – it’s of pitcher David Price. But if it were a picture of an offensive player, he’d have the same expression on his face.

In the regular season, only the Yankees and Red Sox scored more runs than the Rays, who crossed home plate 802 times this year.

In their last two games, they’ve scored just one, which is a problem considering their last two games have come in the postseason. Following their 6-0 loss to the Rangers on Sunday, the Rays now trail Texas 2-0 in the best-of-five ALDS. Oh, and now they have to go on the road for their next two games, if they make it to Game 4, that is.

The Rangers’ pitching staff has been good this season (great even, if you factor in the struggles its had over the years), but they’re not that good are they? Are they good enough to hold the third best run-scoring offense in the league to only one run the past two games? In Tampa no less?

This in no way is meant to be a put down to Texas. C.J. Wilson pitched 6 1/3 scoreless innings today and was outstanding all season. He’s made a successful jump from being a setup man to a full-time starter and he’s one of the many reasons the Rangers may go deep into the postseason this year.

But one run? One run in two games? I figured when the Rays got that albatross Carlos Pena (who batted .169 against lefties during the regular season) out of the lineup that they’d generate some offense. But they actually produced less runs in Game 2 today than they did in Game 1, which was hard to do considering they only scored one yesterday.

This Rays team is in trouble and nobody wants to face the Rangers right now. Those bankrupt bastards are on a mission.

Mikey’s MLB power rankings

Amazingly, we’re only 10 days away from the All-Star break. That means teams will re-charge and start to make a serious run at a playoff spot from mid-July on. And the power rankings haven’t changed much, other than most of the California teams dropping off the list. So without further adieu…..

1. New York Yankees (48-31)—The Bombers continue to ride their stars to victory, and survived a recent team hitting slump. There’s no reason to believe they won’t win the division again and contend for the title.

2. Texas Rangers (47-32)—Seriously, how scary has this team become? This past week Vlad gave his former team a taste of what they might be missing this year

3. Boston Red Sox (48-32)—Barely hanging on to second place in the tough AL East, but only two games separate the Yanks, Sox and Rays.

4. San Diego Padres (47-33)—Sure, the Rangers are a big surprise. But no team has been as surprising as the Padres, who just keep winning. And here’s a frightening thing for other National League teams—the Pads are now believing in themselves too.

5. Tampa Bay Rays (46-33)—Thankfully the Rays got off to a hot start, because everyone knows how much talent resides in the AL East. And has Carlos Pena become Dave Kingman? Yikes….he’s batting .196 with 16 homers and 50 RBI.

6. Atlanta Braves (47-33)—The Braves are a major league best 29-9 at home this year (.763 winning percentage). Too bad no one goes to their home games.

7. New York Mets (45-35)—With two more games against the suddenly slumping Nationals, the Mets still have a chance to close the gap with Atlanta this weekend.

8. Cincinnati Reds (46-35)—I’m getting closer to believing, and so are the Reds.

9. Minnesota Twins (44-36)—They haven’t been playing great baseball, which has allowed the mediocre Tigers and White Sox back into the AL Central race. But there is too much talent in Minnesota to keep the Twins out of the postseason hunt.

10. St. Louis Cardinals (44-36)—I’m now ready to put the Reds above the Cardinals, and Tony LaRussa’s boys had better start playing better away from home (18-22) if they want to keep pace.

2010 MLB Preview: AL East

In order to help get you ready for the MLB season, we’re doing division-by-division rankings with quick overviews on how each club could fair in 2010. Next to each team, you’ll also find a corresponding number written in parenthesis, which indicates where we believe that club falls in a league-wide power ranking. Be sure to check back throughout the next two weeks leading up to the season, as we will be updating our content daily. Enjoy.

All 2010 MLB Preview Content | AL East Preview | AL Central Preview | AL West Preview | NL East | NL Central | NL West

First up is the AL East.

1. New York Yankees (1)
If you think I would get cute in these rankings and suggest that some upstart team would derail the Yankees this season, then you sir, are sadly mistaken. I just don’t have the conjones to bet against them, especially after they added Curtis Granderson, Javier Vazquez and Nick Johnson to their already stacked roster. Sure they lost World Series MVP Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon, the latter of which loved to work the count and provided the Yanks with some pop over the last couple of seasons. But thanks to Granderson, Johnson, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Texeira, Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada, the lineup is still stacked from top to bottom. Vazquez, CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Mariano Rivera will once again highlight a strong pitching staff and assuming they don’t suffer any major injuries, there’s nothing to suggest that the Bombers won’t make another championship run. That said, let’s not be oblivious to the potential problems that could arise for the Yanks this season. Age is a factor, as is the fact that Granderson can’t hit lefties and will be under the spotlight as the club’s biggest offseason acquisition. Plus, for as good as Vazquez was over the past couple of years, he was a disaster the last time he wore pinstripes (Boston fans remember this well.) Should the Yankees win another World Series? Yeah – especially considering they have the best-purchased roster in baseball. But just like last year, they still have to prove it between the lines and they’re not immune to hurdles getting in their way.

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