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Cubs Tue Feb 22 2011

Cubs Preview: Part Six -- Carlos Pena

Thumbnail image for cubs.gifWhen Derrek Lee was traded to Atlanta in the middle of the season it was clear that replacing him wasn't going to be easy. Lee had been a staple at first base ever since Cubs GM Jim Hendry acquired him after the 2003 season, a month after he and the Marlins dashed Chicago's World Series hopes.

Replacing Lee's bat and his Gold Glove defense was imperative, but Hendry was limited by how much he could spend in free agency. He had to get creative and he did just that. Enter Carlos Pena for one year, $10 million. Normally a guy of Pena's caliber would command a multi-year, multi-million-dollar commitment, but his sub-par 2010 severely limited his ability to cash in.

With that in mind, the question here is can Carlos Pena return his batting average to a respectable level or will he be the 21st century Dave Kingman? Pena batted just .196 in Tampa Bay last season, but to his credit he played through plantar fasciitis during the season. The injury can limit mobility and certainly make it difficult to play at a high level.

Pena carries a career .241 batting average, surpassing .250 in a full season only once in his 10 seasons (his mammoth 2007 campaign). But I think it's safe to say his career-low average and .732 OPS last season were primarily injury-related. Playing at Wrigley Field for 81 games just might be what turns him around. In fact, playing in the National League should make a world of difference.

Perhaps being reunited with his first hitting coach, Rudy Jaramillo, also might be key for Pena. Once upon a time Pena played for Texas. Sometimes it's little things like being reunited with an old coach that help a player find his comfort zone. Baseball players are creatures of habit and if they find something that works they usually stick with it.

When an above-average hitter comes over from the American League to the National League they usually do pretty well. Case in point, look at Raul Ibanez. He spent his entire career with the Mariners and Royals and made the jump to the Phillies in 2009. He came out of the gate on fire and set career highs in home runs, slugging percentage and OPS, earning his first all-star berth. There is no reason Pena could not have similar results. He hasn't ever hit for average, but I think Cubs fans would easily take 30 home runs and 90-100 RBIs.

There is one thing that Pena has done better than Lee and it is probably the simplest thing of all: He's a left-handed hitter and the Cubs could use all the help they can get there. Even if he tried, Pena couldn't be as bad as he was a year ago. If he stays healthy, look for him to have a very productive year on the North Side.

 
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