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Cubs Fri Feb 03 2012

Coming & Going: Cubs First Basemen

It's been a tumultuous offseason for the local nines, with the Cubs and White Sox both saying goodbye to big names who played big roles in recent years. Let's get you up to speed before spring training arrives. (Part of a series.)

    

Goodbye: Carlos Pena
Last season: .225 BA, 28 HR, 80 RBI, .819 OPS (.357 OBP, .462 SLG)

Hello: Anthony Rizzo
Last season: .141 BA, 1 HR, 9 RBI, .523 OPS (.281 OBP, .242 SLG) in 153 PA
Triple-A last season: .331 BA, 26 HR, 101 RBI, 1.056 OPS

What Happened?

Carlos Pena signed a one year, $10 million deal with the Cubs for last season. After the season ended, the Cubs offered Pena arbitration but Pena rejected it. The lefty slugger hung around free agency for a while, finally rejoining the Tampa Bay Rays two weeks ago on a one-year deal worth $7.25 million.

Meanwhile, Chicago traded pitcher Andrew Cashner to San Diego for first baseman Anthony Rizzo in early January. Rizzo became available when the Padres acquired another first base prospect, Yonder Alonso, from the Reds. Just a year ago, Rizzo was a centerpiece of the deal that sent Adrian Gonzalez to Boston.

How Will the Cubs Miss Pena?

His 2011 batting average doesn't tell the whole story. Pena was strangely effective for the Cubs last year. Not only did Pena hit 28 home runs, but he also rated really well -- in most cases, among the top 10 first basemen in the majors -- in many statistical categories.

Pena was ninth among first basemen in Runs Created Per 27 Outs, with 5.89. That was better than Mark Teixeira, for instance. For Isolated Power, where singles are removed from the Slugging Percentage equation, Pena came in sixth at the position with .237, higher than former MVPs Ryan Howard and Joey Votto.

Pena was a robust seventh in Home Run Rate, hitting one out of the park once in every 17.6 at-bats. He homered more frequently than Votto, Gonzalez and Miguel Cabrera, and he led the league among first basemen in Walks Per Plate Appearance, with .167.

Pena averaged 4.13 Pitches Per Plate Appearance (2nd in MLB among first basemen), only grounded into six double plays (least among first basemen with over 120 games played), and had seven sacrifice flies (7th). Out in the field, Pena was solid with the leather -- only eight errors, and led first basemen in Zone Rating with 2.940.

Of course, there are stats for everything, and there is plenty of evidence Pena was terrible against left-handed pitchers (including a .133 batting average against them - 16 hits in 120 at-bats with 46 strikeouts). But, at least for the 2012 season, Chicago will miss Pena being in the lineup.

What Does Rizzo Bring?

Plenty of upside.

Rizzo is only 22 and had a fine year with the Triple-A Tucson Padres. But by looking at his MLB stats, you can see everything didn't translate to immediate success. It may take Rizzo some time before he puts it all together. The Cubs, though, do not appear to be in a rush; it looks like the organization will be rebuilding for the next few years. Bryan LaHair may even begin the season as the starting first baseman.

The most interesting part of the Rizzo trade is that the two guys who brought him to Chicago, Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein, were the men involved in the Rizzo-for-Gonzalez trade. Both were the GMs of those two teams, with Hoyer in San Diego and Epstein in Boston. And even before that, Hoyer worked with the Red Sox organization.

Obviously, Cubs' management is high on Rizzo. And if Hoyer and Epstein, with their pedigrees, believe in Rizzo, the Cubs might have their first baseman for the rest of the decade.

 
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