Shortly before last Christmas, Dec. 20 to be exact, the Atlanta Braves signed switch-hitting utility man Ramiro Pena to a one-year contract worth $550,000. Few around town were very familiar with the versatile native of Mexico. That is not surprising, as he had previously played in just 180 MLB games, mostly coming off the bench, over parts of four seasons with the New York Yankees. To that point, there is no doubt that the highlight of Pena’s career was receiving a World Series ring in 2009 with the Pinstripers.
The Atlanta front office knew when they signed Pena that he was fundamentally sound and could deliver solid defense at several different positions. Even though it is a fact not often understood by the casual fan, having at least one or two players of that nature is vital to the success of a contending team.
Pena had a few nice moments over the first couple of weeks of the season, but it was not until April 12, in a game against the Washington Nationals, that he really endeared himself to the fanbase. That night, after the Braves rallied from four runs down to send the game into extra innings, Pena stepped to the plate with two outs in the top of the 10th and proceeded to crush the second pitch of the at bat over the right-field wall for an eventual game-winning two-run homer.
After that heroic at-bat, the city increasingly embraced Pena over the next couple of months. He continued playing his part admirably and proving his worth as a part of a division leading club. Unfortunately, the initial campaign with the Braves was cut short in late June due to season-ending shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum.
Pena’s final stats for 2013 included a .330 OBP and .443 SLG, both career highs, while manning three different positions. The Braves could certainly use that level of production on their bench once again in 2014, and made it a priority this offseason.
During the past week, in a very wise move, GM Frank Wren made sure that the team would have Pena back on the roster next summer. The 28 year old agreed to a one-year deal to avoid arbitration and will join the Braves on the quest for a second consecutive division title.