Rays sign $7M league average first basemen Carlos Pena.
The Rays have signed Carlos Pena to be the 1B/DH option for the 2012 season. The Rays signed him to a one year 7.25M dollar contract for the 2012 season. In 2011, Pena posted a .225/.357/.462 triple slash line to go along with 28HR, 80 RBI, and 68 Runs. So, are the Rays getting what they paid for out of the soon to be 34 year old first baseman?
Pena has been a model of consistency. In eleven seasons as a pro, Pena has averaged 34HR, 96 RBI, 83 Runs to go along with a .239/.352/.486 line. He plays average defense while handling his duties first base with a .994 fielding percentage (league average 1B fielding % .994). League average stats for first base are .263 AVG, 21 HR, 69 runs, 80 RBI, 4 SB. That line almost replicates what Pena posted in 2011. The real issue for Pena is his platoon splits. In 2011, Pena hit .133/.260/.333 vs. lefties (.210/.309/.426 career avg.) and .255/.388/.504 vs. righties (.251/.370/.513 career avg.). In Pena, the Rays know exactly what they are getting, but are they paying too much for what they are getting?
The prices for a win as related to WAR (wins above replacement) are around $4.5M/win. Pena, in 2011, posted a 2.6 WAR rating. That number is an increase from 1.1 he posted when he was last a Ray in 2010. The fans projection over at fangraphs.com have Pena penciled in for 2.7 WAR for 2012. I think that is probably a little optimistic. Around 2.0-2.2 WAR is more realistic, which according to the going rate for WAR makes his $7.25M deal looks reasonable. The fact that the Trop suppresses homeruns to lefties (89 rating where 100 is neutral) does not bode well for Penas’ return to the Bay. However, in Pena’s last stint as a Ray (2007-2010) he hit 74 bombs in 935 AB’s at home and 70 bombs in 1000 AB’s away, so it looks like he was able to overcome the park factors that Tropicana places on LH hitters.
In conclusion, I get the signing. The Rays are getting a consistent platoon playing first baseman that plays league average defense. I only wish that during the winter meetings they would have looked into acquiring a young first baseman via trade. We all know that James Shields played out of his mind in 2011, and that he is a great trade chip. We have seen the hauls that Matt Latos, Gio Gonzales, and Michael Pineda returned to their teams by trade. Someone like Rizzo, Yonder Alonso, or Jesus Montero would have provided a cheap upside alternative to an aging Pena. Other FA that were still available at the time of the signing were Derrek Lee, Casey Kotchman, and, oh yeah, Prince Fielder.
Well Rays fans, enjoy watching your league average first baseman in 2012.
Aaron Price, follow me on twitter @baseballrantman