Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010
Posted 9:13 AM Updated 8:11 PM
By Patrick Mooney
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Ideally the Cubs wanted a left-handed first baseman to hit for power and improve their overall defense. They needed someone who would make a short-term commitment and be flexible enough to fit within their budget.
From the start, Carlos Pena matched that description. And during a series of meetings this week at the Swan and Dolphin resort, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry and agent Scott Boras reached an agreement in which neither side is exposed to too much risk.
They finalized a one-year deal worth 10 million in a negotiation that stretched from late Tuesday night into early Wednesday morning. Pena received multi-year offers elsewhere, and said he heard interest from the Nationals, Braves, Mariners, Orioles and Blue Jays.
Pena, who studied engineering at Northeastern University, analyzed the chance to become a free agent all over again after the final out of the 2011 World Series.
"This was the perfect fit for me," Pena said Wednesday at a news conference. "I also like the fact that this is a platform year for me (to) come in, be part of a great organization (and) have the opportunity to just go out there and play my game.
"Who knows? After a great season, then the future will look even brighter."
The contract was structured so that the money is spread over 13 months and 5 million will come in January 2012 to give the Cubs some financial flexibility. Pena received multi-year offers elsewhere, and said he heard interest from the Nationals, Braves, Mariners, Orioles and Blue Jays.
The Cubs are betting that Pena's offensive numbers last season in Tampa Bay were an aberration and not - at the age of 32 - the beginning of a sharp decline.
Pena hit .196 with a .325 on-base percentage, though his 28 homers and 84 RBI would have led the Cubs in both categories. Pena knows Rudy Jaramillo well from their days together in the Rangers organization, and they hope the hitting coach can help fix his swing.
"When you look at collectively over a four-year window - (the) power numbers, the RBIs, the walks and the defense - it's a package that's still appealing," Hendry said.
Pena has a reputation as a good defender - he won a Gold Glove in 2008 - and that should help a Cubs team that finished last in the National League in fielding percentage. Pena averaged 39 homers and 108 RBI per season between 2007 and 2009, but he entered free agency off a down year.
Boras negotiated Jayson Werth's seven-year, 126 million score, which had heads spinning at the winter meetings. But the powerful agent has also shown that he's willing to get a client a one-year deal to restore market value and position himself for the next big contract.
Adrian Beltre became the premise to this deal. Last offseason Beltre turned down a long-term offer from the A's to play one year with the Red Sox for 10 million. Beltre hit .321 with 28 homers and 102 RBI and established himself as one of this winter's most coveted free agents.
"(This) really had all the flavor of what we call a 'pillow contract'," Boras said. "There's a lot of comforts. It's a one-year situation. It's a dynamic that you can't really expect the marketplace to address - the values of Carlos' ultimate abilities (and) the issues of what happens to major-league players during every career. That is, they have seasons where they have maladies that arise in the short term."
That is how Boras talks, and reporters surrounded him for nearly an hour after the Pena announcement to ask questions about other players he represents. It is a long way of saying it will either work out or it won't.
They'll give a year to find out. Pena - who said he's 100 percent healthy and called the plantar fasciitis that limited him last season a "non-issue" - feels his fortunes are about to turn.
"I don't tend to look back on my failures and dwell upon them," Pena said. "All of those difficulties have made me stronger and a better player (and) a better man."
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.