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.