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For whatever reason, there was a rash of articles this weekend about Carlos Pena’s relative success with the Chicago Cubs, who signed him to a one-year, $10 million contract before this season. All tended to follow the same train of thought: Pena has been as good as hoped for, the Cubs might want him as the starter at first base in 2012 and beyond, so maybe the Cubs shouldn’t trade him.

A sample from CSN’s Patrick Mooney:

Pena has flaws, but he’s been everything the Cubs thought he would be when they structured a $10 million deal across three fiscal years.

Pena’s batting .224 with 20 homers, 51 RBI and 101 strikeouts. He didn’t hit his first home run until May 3, but didn’t complain when several balls fell just short in the cold weather. He’s given them clubhouse leadership and Gold Glove defense.

“You watch how involved he is, what a stabilizing guy he can be,” Quade said. “He rarely lets something take place on the mound that is a little haywire without trying to settle somebody down. He’s a very calming guy.

“He shook off a rough April. Maybe a lesser guy that hasn’t been here before lets (that) carry on into a rough May or June. (Then) you think of the errors that he’s saved with his work around the bag picking up throws.”

On the subject of Pena returning next year, manager Mike Quade (who, I should point out, is not, himself, likely to return next year) put it quite oddly: “Who knows, maybe he doesn’t have to be replaced. That decision is a long way off.”

Gordon Wittenmyer makes the point (with which I agree) that if the Cubs do elect to bring back Pena in 2012, it could say a lot about how competitive they expect to be. Signing Pena instead of Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols would suggest – not confirm, but suggest – that the Cubs aren’t planning on going for it in the 2012/2013 range. The free agent crop at other positions is relatively thin next year, so it doesn’t strike me as particularly likely that the Cubs could use the “savings” gleaned from signing Pena (rather than a Fielder or a Pujols) to improve in other areas.

So, does the fact that the media is collectively discussing a Cubs and Carlos Pena marriage lasting beyond this season mean that the Cubs are, perhaps, massaging the fans? Bracing us for the possibility that Pena not only will not be dealt this week, but also that the Cubs might bring him back next year rather than going after a big-name option?

Eh. I don’t think so, though I wouldn’t put it past the Cubs, who have used the media in that way before.

In this case, I chalk it up to the groupthink mentality that the media takes on sometimes – one of them has an idea for a story (“I should write something about how well Pena has done and how the Cubs might keep him, in case they don’t trade him”), asks a couple questions at a press conference, and then all the writers end up writing the same story. It’s fine; I’m not complaining about it.

I’m just pointing out that this isn’t necessarily an indication that the Cubs have suddenly decided not to shop Pena, or that they’re sold on bringing him back next year.

Something else to keep in mind: even if Pena isn’t dealt, that doesn’t necessarily mean the Cubs made a mistake. Pena is expected to be, at a minimum, a Type B free agent at the end of the year. If the Cubs are open to bringing him back at a salary close to what he’s making this year, they could offer him arbitration at the end of the year, and then collect a draft pick as compensation if he chooses to sign elsewhere. The only possible hiccup there is the timing between Pena making his decision and guys like Pujols and Fielder signing. But we’ll get there when we get there.

  • Larry

    Why change “the one year plan” of Pena at first base? Trade him, and bring up Bryan LaHair. We can see if he has a future as a major league player, then try to sign Prince, not Albert.

  • philoe beddoe

    if you get away from batting average, which actually is an over-rated stat…this guy has been pretty darn good…I don’t think bringing him back means you are not going for it in 2012 or 2013….Prince would be great…but 23-25 per?….spend the money/budget space on pitching…look at the Giants line-up…Pena at 1B and in the 5 or 6 hole would be great for the next 2 years…we need starting pitchers!

    • Joe Cartwright

      I agree. I’d much rather keep Pena and spend the money that would be used to sign Pujols or Fielder (either way it’s a lot) on pitching. Anyone know if there are any good pitcher free agents this year?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Pena will be 34 next year, and comes significantly cheaper than Fielder/Pujols. I think re-signing him without going after one of those two suggests the Cubs are planning to play it cheap for a couple years. The only FA pitcher worth much this year is CJ Wilson. There isn’t really a great place for the Cubs to spend the money they’d “save” by signing Pena. Thus, my conclusion: if they plan on re-signing Pena, they aren’t planning on going big in 2012.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        I updated the post to amplify this issue.

      • awesome

        agree 100%. this past off season when Hendry said “we just need 3 players to contend”, i knew he was blowing hot air. when he got his 3 which included Pena, i knew he was full of hot air. as far as Quade, the Teacher, the Castro basher, excuse maker, minor league manager, enough. .

      • MichiganGoat

        I see the Cubs signing Fielder and Wilson next year (unless someone inks a Soriano-like contract… watch out for the Nats), hopefully dumping Soriano and not returning ARam. With those two signing (a couple minor 1/2 yr deals) we will a have 2012 team that has a better record and attitude and be able to “test” the kids at 3B and outfield. Then 2013 will be a the time to get some more FA pitching and will be a year of all new faces and the start of a champion run. I fear many of us will over-expect next year, but it will be a promising and positive year, but keeping Pena is exactly the move that will keep us in the cellar. I’d be all for keeping Pena for a low price if he could play another position because of his leadership and positive presence, but he just isn’t part of the future and we should not keep anyone around that can’t be productive in 2013-2015.

  • auggie1955

    Lance Berkman is also a free agent 2012 and is having a big year for the Cards. Between Pujols, Berkman and Fielder the Cubs should be able to sign one of them to play 1B. Any of these three would be an improvement over Pena.

  • http://jscannell17@gmail.com jim

    Don’t worry. The CUBS will “screw” everything up!
    STUPID FANS keep showing up in big numbers
    isn’t helping matters. YES, they’re loyal, BUT,
    at the same time it shows Tom Ricketts that it
    is ok to LOSE. We just want to have a good old time.
    p.s. HELLO TOM. ARE YOU LISTENING.
    IT SI TIME TO DUMP SOME OF THESE
    BIG CONTRACTS & LET THE KIDS PLAY!
    OBVIOUSLY, YOU WILL STILL NEED TO
    PICK UP SOME NEW FACES (THEY WANT TO PLAY!)

    • Joe Cartwright

      In an earlier post, it was mentioned that a source said that Ricketts has been very active behind the scenes and is well aware of the situation. I think all this talk about trying to trade Soriano means that we’re trying to dump big contracts.

  • CubSouth

    Here’s an idea, let’s keep Pena and sign Pujols as well! Haha, of course I’m just joking, but we could put Pena at 1st and Pujols at 3rd. I like Pujols but he would only give us another albatross to try and get off our necks. I believe he would be a Soriano contract with Bonds stats.

    • hardtop

      pujols is only a couple years younger than pena, and he is clearly on the decline. he’ll want an 8 to 10 year deal which means he’ll be paid big bucks (mega stupid bucks) into his late 30’s or 40’s, while not producing. Sound like anyone else we know? i think we all would agree to that signing older player who’s skills are declining to 8 year deals for ridiculous amounts of money has suffocated this team and is a big reason why we are the second worst team in the game of baseball. unlike soriano, albert will probably always be decent defensively (i think pena’s a better first baseman btw) if he can stay healthy… but you cannot pay a 40 year old 20 million a year to dig balls out of the dirt and expect to have a winning team.

  • CubsFanatic

    Isn’t Sabathia supposed to opt out of his contract at the end of the year? As far as Pena goes, I’d rather have Fielder or find a gem in someones farm system and trade for them. My hopeful signing in the off season is still Reyes though.

  • Andrew

    All the talk about ARam being gone next year is frustrating to me. Who replaces him? Like it or not, he’s a top 5 third baseman and picking up his option for next year wouldn’t be a bad move. I just don’t get why so many Cubs fans are so eager to see him go.

    The focus this offseason definitely needs to be on starting pitching. If they could find a way to get a legit #1 starter (like CC if he does actually opt out of his contract or someone through a trade – yes I know that would take a lot) and slide Demp, Z, and Garza into more “mid-rotation” roles with young guys competing for #5, I’d be happy.

    If the Cubs kept ARam and got a legit #1 starter, I’d be happy (HAPPY!!) to see them sign Pena and pass on Pujols and Fielder. I think Pujols contract is going to outrun his productivity and Fielder’s contract will outrun his ability to stay healthy. About year 4 of one of those contracts we would be looking to dump them and pay the next “savior” of the Chicago Cubs to replace them. Wouldn’t mind seeing them go after Berkman instead, though. I don’t think it’d be bad to bring up LeHair and play Berkman as 1B/OF, starting almost everyday but getting LeHair a lot of starts, too.

    • Madprizamwoo

      Andrew good post!!! I agree completely. I will expand on signing Fielder. He is the worst defensive first baseman in MLB. Signing him would be like putting lighter fluid on a fire. He will make our defense so much worse as he would not stop Aram Castro and Barney from doubling their error totals this year. Signing Fielder would be the worse mistake they can make this offseason. I would personally stick with Pena as hes the best defensive/power hitter at a fair price. Pujols is not worth 200 million and thats what it’s going to take to get him. Also, all this bullshit of let the kids play. Folks the kids are playing, Castro and Barney. Defensively the worst ss in the league and Barney is bottom 5 at 2b. That’s what youth gets you. Shitty shitty defense.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        Not to pick on a small part of a long comment, but what makes you say Barney is bottom 5 defensively? His fielding percentage (which is admittedly bad)? Eh. My eyes (which are about the only thing I trust when it comes to evaluating defense) tell me he’s got good range, good instincts, and makes good decisions. I’d put him at least average defensively.

        That’s not me defending Barney as a starter, mind you. I don’t think he’s a ML-caliber starting 2B.

        • Madprizamwoo

          Barney has had 9 errors in 75 games started at 2b. That is poor. Actually very poor. Also all the other 2b have started 90+ and have half his number of errors. I agree with you when it comes to my eyes and what I see is a player who has the potential to play above average defense. As is the case with Castro he has the potential to be a great ss but it’s going to take time if it ever happens.

      • Joe Cartwright

        So does the list of vets who don’t play “shitty shitty defense” include Ramirez and Soriano? And, yes, two of the kids are playing but what about all the other young players? We have two kids surrounded by vets who, with the exception of Pena and Byrd, are lazy and don’t really seem to care.

        I will agree that we shouldn’t sign Fielder, though. We’re trying to get better on defense and that’s the wrong direction. I’d rather not find out what happens if you put him on the receiving end of Castro’s throws.

        • Madprizamwoo

          Sorino has to go. He is without question the worst fielding left fielder in the majors. That’s without question.

          Aram is an average fielder at 3rd (he has only 6 errors and has played in 17 more gms then Barney who plays a position where he should have less errors then a 3rd baseman) and unfortunately I would pick up his option for next year as there is nobody via our farm system nor free agency that can put up his offensive numbers and play average defense. We can get the same defense in our system but not the stick.

          The most important defensive positions are up the middle, so catcher, ss, 2b and cf. Two of these are manned by kids.

      • hardtop

        dats da troof…
        at least the part about fatty fielder.
        dont know about barneys numbers, but i’m generally happy with his play defensively. he’s been saddled with some questionable E’s and he’s young. I expect him to be a good to very good defensive 2nd baseman by this time next season… assuming (praying) fielder isnt playng first, we should see his errors plummet. and thats is barney is even at 2nd.

    • Brian Myers

      Andrew,

      The problem with Aramis Ramirez is that he is turns 34 next year and he has no upside potential. If you look at his slugging percentage you can see his numbers are down from his prime and he’s only played 130 games 3 times in the last 7 seasons (not counting this year).

      He has a 16 million dollar option ready to kick in (if the option is picked up) and this may be the biggest source of flexible income the Cubs have available going into next year. If they pick it up it’s telling everyone we plan on not investing in the future.

      Dempster will be 35 and his ERA has went up each of the last 4 years. Zambrano’s numbers would make him a #3 starter on most teams, his WHIP and SO’s are worse than in his prime with no sign of improvement and he turns 31 next year with an 18 million dollar salary. Garza? He’s a value… but his stats indicate he’s a #3 starter on a championship caliber team…. but he’s the likely ace on this staff next year.

      The Cubs would be better to not play around, dump ARam and Pena by the end of the year; pick up a quality SS with part of that 26million saved and move Castro to 3B (where they project he may be someday anyway once his body develops); invest the rest of that savings into higher upside, younger players. If they can dump Z or Soriano along the way to invest in a youth movement, all the better. Sure, this means they will be awful next year, but they’ll have upside potential. If they don’t, they’ll be awful and OLD next year and will have wasted an entire year to just put lipstick on an obvious no upside failure in terms of organizational moves.

      • Madprizamwoo

        The only real ss on the free agent market is Rollins now that Hardy signed an extension. I believe it would cost us to much $ to bring him in and he’s 33. Plus the likelihood of a player on the philles going to the Cubs is very low.

        I do believe Castro needs to be moved from ss. Whether that’s 2b or 3b not sure but with range and a shorter throw I think he would be a very good 2b.

        • Madprizamwoo

          Sorry I misspoke Jose Reyes is a free agent and is 28. He’s been injury prone. He will probably require 15-17 a season over 5 years. He would definitely would be worth considering at ss.

          • Brian Myers

            I believe:

            The Cubs need a minimum of 2 more starters, 2 quality RP, a 1B man that hits higher than .230, 1, ideally 2, corner OF’s that can be productive…

            That’s 8 players minimum to to win the NL. Even if they keep ARam and they pick up a solid SP and big hitter (unlikely due to the salaries this would require), they’ll only be good enough to win the central… at best. Plus they would still be getting old and likely not good enough to keep it up.

            Picking up Reyes would be the start of a 2-3 year turn around / rework of the club. This would bring a lot of guys up from the minors and young talent in from contenders as they picked up our older players in the last year of their contracts for pennant runs. I just don’t think Hendry understands this.

            • Madprizamwoo

              I agree we need 2 sp and 2 rps. I think adding a Reyes would help a bunch and need a replacement for sorino in left. That would cost us big time approx 60 mil in payroll minus 5 mil savings on trading sorino. So adding 55 to payroll only in our dreams. I would target cj Wilson and Capps and get Reyes. That would add approx 40-45 mil in payroll a year. Trade off sorino savings of 5 mil (assuming we pay 40 of the 54 remaining on his contract). So net increase of 35-40. Still doubt they would spend that much. Oh well, at least it’s nice to hope.

    • Joe Cartwright

      Really?!? You don’t know?!? What about the painfully long slow starts where we are without our “top RBI guy”? What about him always heating up after it is too late? What about the fact he has never had a fielding percentage over .975?(for all you stat freaks). What about the laziness? I’m pretty shocked that he’s a top 5 third baseman. It’s a real mystery why people want him gone.

      You do realize Berkman is the oldest out of the four, right?

      • Michigan Goat

        Well stated

      • Andrew

        I didn’t say to sign Berkman long term. I just don’t want to see the Cubs tied to a 25-30 mil/year contract that they may regret down the road. They could sign Berkman to 1 or 2 year deal as a stopgap. Maybe LeHair could be the real deal, and if the Cubs sign Pujols or Fielder he’ll never have a chance to play.

        • Hogie

          Lahair is older than Fielder, he’s not really a prospect, but he might be able to be the stop gap if they decide to go that route.

  • Caleb

    Lance berkman turned 87 this year and the cards signed him without any “upside potential.”. Just sayin’

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Using Cardinal players/decisions as examples should be like the Godwin thing. Cardinal players don’t count. Voodoo magic.

    • Brian Myers

      You don’t require “upside potential” when you can win the division this year with adding 1 good bat. The Cardinals are tied for 1st and might be getting overlooked.

      The Cubs need a lot more. Keeping the same team together (while adding one bat) that is 18 games below .500 102 games into the season… is highly questionable, particularly when your average positional starter is over 30 years old.

  • Andrew

    Unrelated to my previous post – I’m at the I-Cubs game and Castillo looks good! If the Cubs could get something for Soto, I would not be disappointed to see Castillo in Chicago.

  • The Magicman

    hey cubs are only 12 games out of first place

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