Last week, the Chicago Cubs made the mildly surprising decision to offer arbitration to free agent first baseman Carlos Pena. Recall, the offer of arbitration to a free agent is the vehicle by which a team secures draft pick compensation should the player elect to sign elsewhere. But, the offer comes with the risk that the player will accept the offer, netting a one-year deal for money typically comparable to, or slightly higher than, what he made the previous year.

The offer to Pena was mildly surprising because it is unknown what the Cubs would like to do at first base next year. Top free agent options Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder remain on the market, and many trade avenues remain unexplored. Further, Pena has repeatedly said he loved his time in Chicago, and would like to return. He made $10 million in 2011, and might be happy to make a hair more in 2012 with the Cubs.

Adding to the mild surprise: in years past, former Cubs’ brass made it a practice of not offering arbitration to guys just like Pena, believing the risk of acceptance outweighed the possible benefit of the draft pick.

It’s possible the Cubs genuinely want Pena, 33, back. He is among the best defensive first basemen in the game, and is as good as it gets in the clubhouse – both are qualities Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have said they desire. Pena was also productive in 2011, hitting .225/.357/.462, with 28 homers and a healthy 123 OPS+.

Still, the Cubs were likely simply hoping that all of those things that make him a potentially attractive return candidate also make him a highly attractive free agent candidate – one worthy of a multiyear deal (and, knowing Pena’s agent – Scott Boras – you’ve got to believe Pena will be pushed to get as much money as he can on the market). If so, the offer of arbitration was neither risky, nor surprising. It was simply a new way of doing business.

And, it sounds like, in this instance, it was the right way of doing business.

SI’s Jon Heyman says Pena is “unlikely to accept [the Cubs’] arbitration offer,” instead believing he can cash in on his 2011 season in free agency. If Pena indeed departs, by chancing the arbitration offer, the Cubs will receive a draft pick between the first and second round in 2012.

The deadline for Pena to decide on the offer of arbitration is midnight ET on December 7, if he hasn’t already signed with another team by then. Pena is not expected to sign, however, until after Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder are off the board. Even if Pena accepts the offer of arbitration, the Cubs could theoretically cut him in March (arbitration contracts are not fully guaranteed), paying him just 30 days’ pay (about $2 million, depending on his 2012 salary).

If, as expected, Pena declines the offer of arbitration, the Cubs could still negotiate a new deal with Pena. They will, after all, have a hole at first base to fill.

  • Kansas Cubs Fan

    I’m not at all against having Carlos Pena back I became a fan because of how good his glove is, and 28 homers don’t exactly hurt either!

    • CubFan Paul

      but his .180 BA with RISP does hurt

  • RY

    My god, with no Aram and Pena in the lineup, we will need to have 5 cy youngs to be competitive in 2012. Will they let castro hit multiple times in the lineup? Very SCARY!

    • Andy

      Signing Pujols or Fielder would alleviate that problem. However, if we miss out on both 1B then the Cubs are in a bit of trouble. I do think adding Jackson to CF will be a good move, but the Cubs HAVE to have a middle of the order run producer.

      Getting compensation picks for Pena and ARam and a “lottery pick” already has me excited for next years draft.

    • Deez

      With ARam & Pena in the lineup, what did we have?

  • hansman1982

    I would not mind having Pena back, granted I would much rather get the pick and go after Fielder, but, Pena brings everything you listed plus playoff experience which is valuable if you are wanting to build a younger team.

  • Cliffy

    Junior Lake did not play on Saturday or Sunday. After checking with some tweet people I was able to find this.

    QT @YOHANNA_NUNEZ: @rafaelrojasc @Cliffy46405 more about Lake: he lightly strained a right leg muscle on friday and is day-to-day.

    • Brett

      Thanks, Cliffy. Hopefully he takes it easy. As I’ve said, that’s a long season for a 21-year-old kid.

  • die hard

    LaMaheu 1B
    Barney 2B
    Castro SS
    Soto 3B
    Soriano LF
    Byrd CF
    Jackson RF
    Castillo C

    • Ronnie A.

      Seriously? we’ll be worse than the Astros with that linup.

      • bacboris

        Well maybe not the Astros but the Twins for sure.

        I will say this though, die hard never fails to disappoint. Jackson in RF? Soto at 3B (where he has tons of experience obviously). And LeMahieu beating out  LaHair. Thats not even discussing why Barney will still be starting (especially with all the guys we have in the minors) or if Theo will be OK suffering through Soriano all year.

        In the end, I will give die hard this, he is always consistent. It may be consistently nonsensical and not informative but at least its consistent.

      • Jim

        But we could have the #1 pick in 2013.

        • Luke

          Nah. Houston probably has that pick locked up already.

    • Andrewmoore4isu

      45 hrs

    • MichiganGoat

      die hard when I look at your comments through the lens of satire I smile, but I fear there is no satire to these comments.

    • Luke

      To add a touch of additional realism to die hard’s lineup, flip Jackson and Byrd (since even Byrd admits that Jackson is going to replace him in center), and flip Soto and LeMahieu. I think even die hard would have to admit that if those two guys are going both be playing corner infield slots anyway, it just makes more sense to play them where they have experience. LeMahieu has more experience at third, and Soto as more experience at first. Offensively, nothing changes, so it just makes sense to go with the defense.

  • Kansas Cubs Fan

    If Soto gets moved any where besides Catching for the Cubs it should only be 1B or traded!

    3B is ridiculous.

    How about we move Zambrano to SS and Starlin to the starting rotation.

    • Cedlandrum

      I believe Soto was a 3rd baseman as an amateur and has played there in the minors in some rare occasions. But that said there was a reason he was moved off the hot corner.

      • Luke

        Soto played 3 games in the minors as a third baseman, vs 42 at first. He is not a third baseman. It has been tried, and the results weren’t pretty.

        I could see him moving to first at some point, but only if he establishes himself as a consistent and high quality hitter.

  • MightyBear

    I don’t want to see Pena back at first. He swings through the ball too much. The Cubs have to get away from these guys that strike out 150 times a year. How many times do we have first and second nobody out and somebody whiffs and the next guy hits into a dp. More walks, less strikeouts. See the Cardinals, Yankees, TB, Red Sox, etc.

    • CubFan Paul