The Tampa Bay Rays have just filled out their void at first base by signing Carlos Pena to a one-year deal worth $7.25 million. The fan favorite will go back to his former team after spending the 2011 season with the Chicago Cubs. Pena was worth 2.6 WAR last season and bounced back from a sub-standard 1.1 WAR season in 2010, but critics say that last year was a best-case scenario for Pena. Nevertheless, Pena is a solid addition to a Rays line-up that was starting the lucky and below-average Casey Kotchman at first. Adding the 28 home run power bat was a wise move for the Rays, and this was a relatively unexpected signing overall. However, there are some troubling statistics that make this deal “solid” and nothing more.
There were several teams with serious interest in acquiring the former 6 WAR slugger, and the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers were among those two teams. The trade that sent Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners for Michael Pineda left a void at the DH slot, but the Yanks will have to turn elsewhere for a solution. The Tigers, on the other hand, have it worse; DH Victor Martinez is out for the season with an ACL tear. The Yankees might have to sign Johnny Damon, who isn’t an ideal designated hitter by any means. Interestingly enough, Damon has played for all three of these teams at some point or another.
Carlos Pena is a Type B Free Agent, but he will not cost the Rays a compensatory pick. The Cubs will net themselves a draft pick for offering arbitration to Pena, but the only expenses involved in this deal are monetary.
It is always important to look at the various projections provided on FanGraphs to get an idea of a player’s value, and the fans who submitted their projections to FanGraphs value Pena as a 2.7 WAR player. They rightfully tab him as an above-average defensive player at first base and project a wOBA of .350 (.354 wOBA in 2011). The projections provided by Baseball Info Solutions and RotoChamp have wOBAs that are similar to the fan projections, so the consensus is that Pena is about a 2.5 WAR when looking at the projections.
In 2011, Pena’s wRC+ was 119 thanks to an ISO of .237 and an OBP of .357 (batting average doesn’t matter anymore). However, the problem with Pena lies in his platoon splits; his wOBA against lefties was .266 last season compared to a total of .383 versus righties. Pena might barely be an average starter and is headed for regression. There is a reason why he is getting under $10 million per year, and it lies in the underlying statistics. Teams, such as the Rays, are smart and know the risks associated to Pena. It doesn’t seem like they will have a platoon in place (Luke Scott is the only option at this point).
Although WAR already takes park factors into account, expect Pena’s offensive statistics to be depressed in the Trop. Wrigley Field is friendly on left-handed power hitters, while Tropicana is nearly the opposite. A decrease from 28 to 20 home runs in 2012 isn’t out of the question.
Expect Carlos Pena to be worth 2 WAR in 2012 and have about an average year for the Rays. He comes as a steady upgrade at this position and provides some needed offense, but Pena isn’t a savior by any means. He has some flaws that cannot be hidden- unless if there is a platoon in place- but $7.25 million is more than fair value for Tampa. 2 WAR players are worth around $9 million, so they were able to shave off a couple of million in this signing. Pena is poised for an overall decrease in value next season, but the Rays should still expect an average season from their new starting first baseman.
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