Scouting The Waiver Market: Carlos Pena

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(Scott Halleran/Getty)
(Scott Halleran/Getty)

Following last night’s shutout loss to the Rangers, the Yankees have a team 85 wRC+ and average just 3.91 runs per game offensively. They’re a bottom five offense despite playing not just in a very good hitter’s park, but in a division full of hitter’s parks. That inability to generate offense is huge reason why they are just 22-28 in their last 50 games.

The Yankees are reportedly close to acquiring Alfonso Soriano from the Cubs for a mid-level prospect, a nice little pickup that will add some much needed right-handed pop to the lineup. Soriano is just one man though, he alone won’t save the offense. The Bombers still need more help, particularly in the power department. We’re talking about a team that hasn’t had an extra-base hit in their last 22 innings, remember.

Over the weekend, the Astros designated former Ray and former Yankees farmhand Carlos Pena for assignment as they continue their youth movement. Yankees fans have seen what the 35-year-old Pena brings to the table firsthand over the years — he’s a career .231/.353/.501 (109 OPS+) hitter with 26 homers in 113 games against New York — but is there enough left in the tank to help a club that desperately needs offense? Let’s look:

The Pros

  • Offensively, Pena’s calling card is his power. He’s hit at least 19 homers in each of the last six years and swatted eight in 325 plate appearances for Houston. As a dead pull left-handed hitter (2013 spray chart, 2011-12 spray chart), he should fit very well in Yankee Stadium.
  • In addition to the power, Pena will also work the count and draw plenty of walks. He’s seen an average of 3.98 pitches per plate appearance this year (4.14 from 2011-12) with a 13.2% walk rate (15.6% from 2011-12). Both rates are well-above-average and damn near elite.
  • Pena is pretty durably, having been on the DL just twice in the last five years. He missed a month with a broken finger when CC Sabathia hit him with a pitch in 2009, and he missed two weeks with a foot strain in 2010.
  • Following all those years in Tampa, Pena is very familiar with the AL East and playing in tight second half races. He’s also widely considered a strong clubhouse presence. I don’t know how much that helps, but I can’t imagine it’s a bad thing.
  • Pena is owed a touch more than $1M for the remainder of the season and will become a free agent this winter. If he goes unclaimed on waivers and is released (likely), any team can sign him for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum.

The Cons

  • Pena is not going to hit for average, like at all. He strikes out a ton (27.4 K% this year, 28.4 K% from 2011-12) and has not hit above .230 since 2008. Pena had a .209 AVG when Houston cut the cord and has actually hit below the Mendoza line in two of the last four years.
  • The power is slipping. Pena put up a .141 ISO with the Astros, the second straight year his slugging ability has slipped. He’s gone from a .251 ISO from 2008-11 to a .151 ISO since the start of 2012.
  • Despite his reverse split this year (77 wRC+ vs. RHP and 133 wRC+ vs. LHP), Pena is a platoon bat. He hit .223/.355/.434 (120 wRC+) against righties from 2010-12 but just .166/.295/.343 (81 wRC+) against southpaws. Lefties shut him right down.
  • Pena was once a Gold Glove caliber first baseman, but now he’s just pretty good. He can’t play anywhere else, though. It’s first base, DH, or nothing. Not much flexibility.

The Yankees actually claimed Pena off trade waivers from the Cubs in August 2011, if you remember. The two sides obviously didn’t work a trade. Brian Cashman recently told George King he “wouldn’t be able to say” if the team has interest in the first baseman, which is GM speak. The team obviously saw something they like once upon a time, and in fact hitting coach Kevin Long knows Pena well from their time together with Triple-A Columbus in 2006. Pena credits Long with helping resurrect his career, so there’s a relationship already in place.

Although a right-handed power bat is the top priority (at least until the Soriano trade is finalized), the Yankees are desperate for any kind of power right now. Travis Hafner has been a drain on the offense, hitting just .161/.243/.273 over the last two months. Pena could replace him as the left-handed half of the DH platoon in addition to giving Lyle Overbay a proper backup, something the team lacks. He will also add some much needed patience to the lineup and be able to take aim at the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium. That should boost his power production a bit. It wouldn’t take much for him to be an upgrade over Pronk at this point. Not at all.

Right now, the offense is so bad that the Yankees are in a position where they almost have nothing to lose. The bench is generally unusable and about five-ninths of the regular starting lineup is a non-factor. They can afford to give someone like Pena — a flawed but usable player — an opportunity to see if the short porch and a potential playoff race boosts his production. If he doesn’t hit, then they really wouldn’t be any worse off. They have both the flexibility and desperation to give someone like Pena a look now that he’s freely available.

Does Ryan Braun's suspension tell us anything about what's coming for A-Rod?
Reconsidering MLB's response to steroids
  • Andrew

    Anyone But Hafner

  • Gonzo

    You never know. Maybe you get lucky for a few weeks. That would make it worth it.

    If I did the math correctly, Pena just passed his 10 years in the bigs this year. Good for him.

  • trr

    He’s fading badly, but at least he could spell Overbay and he always hit for at power at the Stadium. Bottom line: is he better or worse than Hafner? Answer: It’s nearly impossible to ne worse than Hafner has been the last 2 months, so yes, DFA Hafner and sign Pena.

    • Kosmo

      Why does another LHH need to spell Overbay? You sit Overbay vs. LHP and play ____________ ? NY needs to add a versatile INF like Michael Young. Someone who can hit a little.

      • mitch

        obviously he wouldn’t fill the need that young could, but he’s available and basically free. Even a marginal upgrade is worth it at this point.

        • I’m One

          Yup. That’s the key. He’s available and basically free. While I’d prefer someone like Kendrys Morales, he doesn’t seem to be currently available and is certainly not free. Same for Young, who I would think is even more valuable to the Yankees due to his positional flexibilty (even with marginal defense at those positions).

  • Cool Lester Smooth

    I’d be down.

  • Vern Sneaker

    Hafner’s toast, so why not, it’s no-lose.

  • A.D.

    Seems like he passes the “not worse than Hafner” test and is physically able to play a position in the field, so replacement seems like a no brainer

  • Robinson Tilapia

    I’ve always irrationally liked Peña. Its some sort of good defensive first baseman fetish, really. We could use the occasional moonbeam shot on the bench.

    • LarryM Fl

      Me too, he’s a likable player. He seems to get his hit at the right time.

  • Jacob the OG

    Explain to me how a lefty that hits righties but not lefties is a reverse split?

    • TCMiller30

      It’s a typo. He has a wRC+ of 133 against lefties and 77 against righties this year.

  • Kosmo

    Pass. I was going to list a couple of reasons but it´s to damn hot.

  • mike

    agreed – run everyone thru the clubhouse and see who sticks…its a shame Pronk is a waste of space, but i really think that once he was asked to play everyday ( and face lefthanded pitching ) whatever ju-ju he had going at the beginning of the season got out of whack and he has been lost since.

    i truly think that if Pronk could get DL’d for 15 days, send him to Tampa to work on his swing and come back facing only RH, he would be an asset and could help….but without a position in the field his spot will be wasted until they cut him

  • Dicka24

    Pena’s terrible. Pass.

  • Preston

    Let’s hope for the good old dead cat bounce!

  • Mandy Stankiewicz

    A righty bat yea, but we have too many of these platoon players. Pass.

    • TCMiller30

      Well that’s why he’s not hitting. The lefty has been using his righty bat! Pick him up, give him the proper equipment, watch hit rake.

      • Mandy Stankiewicz

        Ha. Oops. I meant against RHP.

  • ropeadopee

    Can’t get here soon enough.

    Also, my brain hurts from trying to understand the reverse split analysis supplied in the article. Can someone please simplify?

    • TCMiller30

      It’s a typo. He has a wRC+ of 133 against lefties and 77 against righties this year.

      • ropeadope

        Many thanks my friend.

        A typo on this site? Who would have thunk?

  • Rolling Doughnut

    Peña? Desperate times call for desperate measures I guess.

  • Bill

    I guess he’ll be better than Hafner has been, but how much, who knows?

  • your mom

    Can we have Carlos Santana instead?

    • Gonzo

      Good luck with that. He’s on tour in Europe right now.

    • Future ACE MannyGeee

      Or…. wait for it….

      Wily Mo Pena.


  • umbrelladoc

    The Orioles traded Canzler to the Pirates (I think so the Yankees couldn’t get him). Their closer Grilli left the game clutching his arm. They can probably slot Melancon as the closer and have two other relievers with sub 1 WHIP, but they probably are looking for another arm. Joba for Canzler?

    • stuart a

      amen.. i mentioned joba to the pirates yesterday after grilli got hurt for something….

    • Future ACE MannyGeee

      I can get behind that.

    • Kosmo

      I would do Joba for Hague and DeJesus. I doubt the Pirates would.

  • Tino!_24

    He fits the 35 and older criteria so why not. Notice that the old guys looking to “prove themselves” because they got dumped always get off to a fast start out of the gate then tank. At least with Pena and Soriano what you see is what you get because they are not in that category.

  • JLC 776

    Pedroia just gave Boston a big home town discount (7/100). I wonder if any other 2B are paying attention…

    • your mom

      Classy move. Still hate him though. And I don’t think Cano gives a flying fuck. He’s all about the money & fame! Big money hos!!!!!

      • Crime Dog

        Classy move to accept 100 million? He was three years from free agency, this is a pretty good deal but its not completely team friendly and selfless. He’s giving up a few dollars for security. It happens in the league everywhere. It would happen in NY if the Yankees negotiated extensions ever.

    • Shittyshittybangbang

      How much of a discount ? The years are about right. Teams are going to come to their senses about these ten year mistakes. As far as the money, I don’t know ? What do r.a.b.’ers think is right regarding dollars for D.P. ?

      • jsbrendog

        well, if petey is worth over $14 mil a yr then, sucks to say, but cano is worth $20.

        • Gonzo

          Petey signed a $14mm contract for the 2015-2021 seasons. Not only is Cano an outright FA at the end of the year, he’s signing for the 2013 season and beyond.

    • Gonzo

      I’m not sure this is such a hometown discount. They had him for the next two years anyway. They just signed him for his age 32-38 seasons without seeing how he does in his age 30 or 31 seasons. For a guy his size and position, I’m not sold it’s a hometown discount.

      Actually, I don’t know how he could turn this down.

    • Rick

      It’s not a hometown discount when you’re getting paid commensurate with your talent level. He’s not worth more than $14M per year.

      • Need Pitching & Hitting (but mostly hitting)

        He’s definitely worth that, and more, now.
        Maybe not then, though.

        • Rick

          We value players very differently. I don’t find Freddy Sanchez’s offense to be worth $14M per year. Defense is so overvalued and can’t be accurately quantified.

  • Darren

    Just like with Soriano, there is essenitally zero downside to this move. I would assume the Astros would take just about anything for Pena, maybe any kind of fringe-y fodder. Please, we see what we have with Hafner and Overbay, we really need some help. We can’t get an XBH to save our lives. If Pena cean generate an extra few runs here or there, that can mean the difference between the wild card and not.

  • Batsman

    The Yankees don’t need power. They need .OBP guys. Pena has a lifetime .348 OBP, but a .324 OBP for this season. IMO, that’s good enough. The rest, we can hope that Kevin Long can fix his hitting.

    • Batsman

      One more thing, this guy has always been a “Yankee killer” and just an “ok” hitter against everyone else.

    • mitch

      they don’t need power? They haven’t hit a home run in like a month.

      • JLC 776

        7 home runs in July; 4 by Cano, 2 by Overbay, 1 by Ichiro! Seriously…

        (Soriano has 8 HRs during the same period)

  • Manny’s BanWagon

    Why not.

    The current bar is set at “are you better than Hafner” which basically includes everyone (except Nunez)

  • Hassey

    Is it still blasphemous if I say “Yankees suck”, but qualify that as “the 2013 Yankees 40-man roster sucks”?

  • LarryM Fl

    Hafner is dead man walking. He has provided no assistance to the team. Pena can help out at first base and at least get his bat on the ball for productive outs. The Yankees have been getting guys on base but the lack of productive outs at the minimum form Hafner and the boys is a killer. The Boston series was the nail on his DFA. Hafner was missing pitches by 6 inches.

    Cashman please DFA Hafner. Please!

    • jsbrendog

      problem is pena only hits lefties. i mean, that’s good and better than pronk but he cant hit righties…as a lefty….and they are the majority of pitchers you see.

      i’m not saying i am against pena but he wouldn’t be much more than a dh/overbay platoon vs lefties.

      • Winter

        Nope. Pena for his career has a massive traditional split (meaning he hits righties but can’t touch lefties). His splits so far this year are probably just a fluke.

        • Kosmo

          it is a fluke considering his ave. vs. LHP this season is a robust .231.
          Yanks can do better.

          • Winter

            I’ll take him in place of Hafner, no questions asked. If someone better comes along, cut Pena. Otherwise, rolling with Pena is better than rolling with Hafner.

            • Kosmo

              Pena has been sitting now for a few days the trade deadline is about 1 week away, there is no time to roll with Pena. NY should be looking to make solid moves from now until the trade deadline. Not 1 week stopgaps.
              Hafner´s ABs should be given to Neal or someone else currently on the 40 man roster.

        • jsbrendog

          fluke or not that is how he is NOW. and at his age his prior performance means less because he is in the midst of his decline phase. he is what he is now, not what he was.

          • Kosmo

            He sucks now.

    • Kosmo

      Pena can get his bat on the ball for productive outs ? Pena has hit about .200 over these past 4 years. Even the Astros decided they´ve seen enough of Pena. He´s been absolute garbage with 2 outs RISP this season.
      He´s toast just like our friend Hafner is toast.

      • Crime Dog

        35 PAs with 2 outs and RISP! Please don’t reference that please.

  • SeventhAce

    At this point, just pick up whatever you can throw it at the wall and see if it sticks…

  • Bronx Bombers23

    2 more potential 35+ year old has beens, one of them with another year left on his contract. Ichiro, Wells, and now Soriano if he comes on board, will make 3 past their prime OF, signed for next year. I know Wells would cost next to nothing next year, but the point is valid.

    I hope Soriano fails his physical so this deal doesn’t happen. We should be the ones selling aging vets, not acquiring them.

  • Duh Injuries

    The Yanks actually had Pena at one time. They signed him to a minor-league contract after he collected only 37 PA in 2006 with the Red Sox then inexplicably released him just before he had his monster 2007 season which was stupid because Giambi had an injury-shortened 2007 (83 games played.) Granted Giambi came off a tremendous 2006 but he was 36 going into 2007 but it would’ve made sense to keep Pena at least as an insurance/backup 1B as he had smacked 82 homeruns in the previous four seasons before his one-homerun 2006. Cashman stupidly opted for Doug Mantkiewicz instead. They could’ve started Pena at 1B in 2007 (Giambi still DHs) and not signed Teixiera assuming Pena still has the 2007-08 he had with Tampa Bay. I think they could’ve still won it all in 2009 with Pena at 1B considering he posted 39 HR, 100 RBI, and .893 OPS (.356 OBP + .537 SLG) despite his crap .227 BA. He was abysmal BA-wise in 2010 the final year or second to last year under contract with Tampa Bay (.196) but he still posted 28 HR and 84 RBI with a so-so .325 OBP. He was essentially 2012 Russell Martin with slightly less BA but more HR, RBI, and OBP.

    I’d like to see them reacquire Carlos Pena AND Ramiro Pena.