Notwithstanding the recent rash of articles suggesting Carlos Pena could return to the Cubs in 2012, there is no reason to believe the first baseman remains firmly on the trade block. He’s a free agent at the end of the year, he doesn’t have no-trade protection, he’s got a reasonable contract, and he’s actually producing.

But, perhaps for those very reasons, the Cubs’ asking price is apparently high for Pena.

Or, at least, too high for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The surprise NL Central competitor is looking to add a bat for the stretch run, and their primary target – Carlos Beltran – doesn’t sound interested in coming to Pittsburgh. The team’s pitching has been surprisingly good, but the offense remains weak. Without another bat, it remains likely that the Pirates will fade down the stretch.

This fact is not lost on Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington who has been working the phones to get a deal done, but isn’t having much luck.

Indeed, one of the teams on the other end of that phone was the Chicago Cubs. The subject? Carlos Pena.

Unfortunately for the Pirates (and perhaps the Cubs), a deal could not be reached. Speaking generically about failed trades, Huntington said yesterday, “[t]he acquisition cost is prohibitive at this time. One, you’ve got to have a player who, if he has a no-trade (clause), wants to come to your city. Two, the other team has to be willing to trade the players you express interest in. Three, you’ve got to find a match in value. We’ve run into roadblocks at just about every step of the way.”

Naturally, Huntington was speaking about more than a mere failed Carlos Pena trade, but it certainly suggests that the Cubs’ asking price for Pena has been high. Given that he, unlike some other impending free agents, could actually net the Cubs a draft pick at the end of the year, keeping the price a bit high makes some sense.

But I do wonder if Huntington might be hoping to land a player on the cheap – at least prospect-wise. Earlier this month, there were reports that the Pirates were hoping to add players as salary dumps, rather than giving up some of their better prospects. For a team like the Cubs, that might be mana from heaven – depending on the player. But unlike Alfonso Soriano, for example, Carlos Pena has real value. The Cubs absolutely should not dump him just to avoid some future salary obligations.

Of course, prices have a way of changing in the week leading up to the deadline, so we’ll see where things stand in a few days.

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