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Carlos Pena would be Adam Dunn-like for Chicago Cubs

 

[picappgallerysingle id="9299643"]Carlos Pena or Adam LaRoche for the Chicago Cubs?

These strongmen lefty-hitting first basemen seem the Cubs’ main options to fill the gaping hole at first base. The reports du jour claim the Cubs have targeted LaRoche, while Pena’s salary might be a bit strong for GM Jim Hendry to swallow.

A comparison is in order here. If acquiring an Adam Dunn-style hitter who actually can field a grounder or pick a low throw out of the dirt — unlike the hulking Dunn, now a White Sox designated hitter — then Pena’s your man.

Pena’s numbers most closely mimic Dunn’s. Near-40-homer power, tons of strikeouts, lots of walks and a high on-base percentage. Falling below the Mendoza line in 2010 makes many queasy, but Pena was not a high-average guy anyway. His 46-homer peak in 2007 matched Derrek Lee’s 2005 dream season. But, unlike Lee, Pena approached his best production in succeeding seasons and did not suffer a massive power outage.

LaRoche has played on four teams in the past two seasons. For whatever reason, he’s never established a nice run with one franchise like Pena with the Rays. His career-high 100-RBI production last year is attractive, but he seems a cut below Pena overall as a run-maker. He’ll have almost a two-year age advantage on Pena, who turns 33 early next season.

The Cubs almost have to consider at least a two-year deal for their first-base quarry. Nobody is coming up through the system that could be pegged as a legit prospect at the position. Tyler Colvin shifting over from the outfield would be counterproductive. Colvin’s still learning his own strike zone and doesn’t need the burden of such a defensive switch from status as an athletic outfielder to muddy up his psyche.

Either way, neither Pena nor LaRoche will excite the disenchanted Cubs masses, certainly not in a division featuring first basemen like Albert Pujols, Joey Votto and (for now) Prince Fielder.

There may be a blessed day in the mid-future when the Cubs will come up with their own home-grown big bopper at first, and with a quicker bat than Hee-Seop Choi, the last hyped first-sacker prospect. Until then, they’re stuck kicking the tires on thirtysomething  middle-level guys like LaRoche or comeback-kid hopefuls like Pena. We’ll have more about the prognosis for the recovering, but still-not-there flow of home-grown talent from Cubs scouting director Tim Wilken in an upcoming post.

If LaRoche arrives, I’ll vouch I am getting old. I saw his dad, Dave LaRoche, pitch for the Cubs in 1973-74. Possessed of a decent fastball, the elder LaRoche came under pressure from team brass to throw harder. They thought he was near Nolan Ryan speed.  He buckled amid the incompetence at the time, and escaped to have a pretty good bullpen career before siring two major-league sons, Adam and Andy.

And if the younger LaRoche is encamped at first base in Wrigley Field in 2011, may the honchos lay off and not expect him to produce 35 to 40 homers. Ain’t gonna happen, and don’t cloud the guy’s mind with unfair expectations. History tends to repeat itself in the Cubs Universe.