According to Buster Olney, an “unknown team” has claimed Carlos Pena off waivers from the Cubs. Pena was placed on waivers on Monday (the first business day of the post-Jim Hendry era), with the expectation that he would easily clear, given the unusual structure of his contract, which pays him $5 million in January.
I’ll update you as more information becomes available, but I’m pretty surprised by this news. The only explanation I can come up with is the structure of Pena’s contract is even more complicated than we now know, and the team claiming him on waivers is somehow responsible only for the money he’s yet owed in 2011. Otherwise, it would make no sense to claim him, lest the Cubs simply say, “ok, here, you pay him in 2012.”
Recall, when a player is placed on waivers, other teams have the opportunity to “claim” him. Only one team is awarded the claim, however (going by ascending records, first in the players’ own league, and then the other league). At that point, the waiving team may elect to withdraw the waiver, let the claiming team take him and his contract, or work out a trade. The two teams have two business days to work out a trade, so we should know what’s going to happen by the end of the week.
It’s hard to speculate whether the Cubs will be able to work out a trade for Pena. On the one hand, any value they can get for an impending free agent – even if it’s just financial savings – is a good thing. On the other hand, if the Cubs are unable to land (or choose not to pursue) Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder in the offseason, Pena might be their best option at first base next year. Further, Pena is expected to be a Type B free agent who would net the Cubs a prospect if they kept him, offered him arbitration, and he chose to sign elsewhere. Of course, a draft pick costs money to sign, so if the Cubs can get a decent prospect in trade right now, they might be better off taking that route.
UPDATE: Ken Rosenthal says that Pena’s contract is such that the $5 million January payment would still be the Cubs’ obligation if Pena is traded via waivers (technically, they’d be obligated to the pro-rated, April to August portion of it). Why, I’m still not entirely sure. But there it is, and it explains why a team would be willing to claim Pena (it also explains why I removed the preamble “wow” from this post – it’s no longer quite as wow-able). Rosenthal thinks a deal is unlikely because the Cubs didn’t get much in the way of offers for Pena back in July.
UPDATE II: According to multiple reports, the Yankees are the team that claimed Pena, and they do want to try and work out a trade. They believe they can use Pena at DH. We’ll see where this goes.