Former Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Carlos Peña signs one-year deal with Chicago Cubs

December 9th, 2010 by Staff

LAKE BUENA VISTA — Carlos Peña didn’t want to leave and the Rays wanted to keep him. But there was the little matter of the $10 million salary he sought, which is the reason Peña is now a Chicago Cub and the Rays are officially looking for his replacement at first base.

The search process will be multifaceted as the Rays consider several scenarios, seemingly in this order: signing or (less likely) trading for someone to play first every day; finding someone to share the job with Dan Johnson; or turning the job over to Johnson and acquiring a power-hitting DH. And since they are also looking for a corner outfielder, there could be even more configurations.

“We’re still talking about a lot of things, and we feel as though there’s going to be other people available as the whole process moves down the road, whether it’s into December or January,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I’m certain we’ll be able to do some things. We have different ideas and options, like Plan A’s, Plan B’s, Plan C’s out there.

“We feel pretty confident that we’re going to get somebody that’s going to be pretty productive at that spot.”

There are interesting names at the top of the free agent list, such as Adam LaRoche, Derrek Lee and Lyle Overbay, but with several other teams also in the market, they would seem likely to be too expensive for the Rays.

The other names aren’t nearly as appealing, such as Casey Kotchman (the Seminole High product), Russell Branyan and Troy Glaus, which may well be why the Rays are keeping open their options. The DH market is relatively deep, from Vlad Guerrero to Jim Thome and Hideki Matsui to Manny Ramirez and more.

“We have some flexibility with a full-time DH type or more of a full-time first base type,” executive VP Andrew Friedman said. “We have different ways we can go that opens the applicant pool.”

PEÑA PAINED: Peña said he held out hope the Rays would try to keep him — or at least express “the intense interest” he was expecting — but understood the situation.

“I was disappointed that Tampa wasn’t able to really show that interest that I actually wanted and expected,” he said. “But I know it has nothing to do with desire, because I know how much Andrew wanted to bring me back and how much Joe wanted to bring me back, and I wouldn’t expect anything less. However, their hands were tied and that’s something I understand also.”

Friedman said it was a “no-brainer” to want Peña back because of his value on and off the field. But he knew their chances were slim when agent Scott Boras told him in their initial conversation that Peña — despite hitting .196 and striking out 158 times while hitting 28 homers — sought a raise from his $10.125 million salary.

And, with a half-dozen teams interested (Braves, Jays, Mariners, Nationals, Orioles), he just about got it by taking the one-year deal with the Cubs.

“My desire was selfishly that that wouldn’t be the case, but he did very well for himself on the contract, and rightfully so,” Friedman said. “So the Cubs got a really good player and a top-shelf human being.”

Peña was enthusiastic and excited to join the Cubs, citing the tradition of the team and Wrigley Field and the passion of their fans, and eager to improve on his 2010 performance and re-establish his value for an even more lucrative and longer-term deal in what he called “a platform year.”

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Rays in-game TV host Todd Kalas interviewed with the Rangers about their play-by-play job. … Free agent OF Gabe Kapler is still “kicking around” whether to return to play another season. … Today is the Rule 5 draft of minor-league players, with the Rays considering moving up from 29th to make a selection (who has to be kept in the big leagues all season) and projected to lose RHP Aneury Rodriguez, potentially first overall to Pittsburgh. … C Dioner Navarro, who deserted the Rays and went home when left off the playoff roster, has reportedly found a new home, with ESPN reporting he’s close to a deal to be the Dodgers backup.

MISCELLANY: Four-time All-Star 1B Paul Konerko, 34, stayed with the White Sox, agreeing to a $37.5 million, three-year contract. … The Orioles, who had interest in the Rays’ Jason Bartlett, are now talking with the Twins about SS J.J. Hardy. … The Yankees made their first formal offer to LHP Cliff Lee, reportedly for about $140 million over six years. … Free agent slugger Jack Cust, 31, agreed to a one-year deal with the Mariners. … Ex-Rays INF Miguel Cairo re-signed with the Reds, getting a $2 million deal for two seasons. … OF Jeff Francoeur, 26, agreed to a one-year deal with the Royals. … The Brewers are making a big pitch for RHP Carl Pavano. … Longtime Expos and Marlins play-by-play announcer Dave Van Horne won the Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in baseball broadcasting. … Hall of Famer Bob Feller, 92, was moved to hospice care.

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