Friday, July 22, 2011

The Indians and Carlos Pena

When NFL draft day is lurking, the smart advice is to ignore what clubs are saying and pay attention to what they aren't saying.  Using this strategy with the Indians relative to the 2011 trade deadline means that a right handed hitting outfielder and a starting pitcher may not be the target but a first baseman and back end reliever may be.

Carlos Pena - Cleveland Indians?

To some, this may not make a lot of sense as the Indians have Matt LaPorta and Carlos Santana at first base and a bevy of relievers (Chen Lee, Zach Putnam, Nick Hagadone, and Josh Judy available in AAA Columbus) but there is one player out there that may be available and would provide the Cleveland Indians much benefit at a low cost and that player is Carlos Pena.

Carlos Pena would provide the Cleveland Indians with a middle of the order power bat, leadership in the clubhouse, and gold glove caliber defense at first base.  Each one of these skills is desperately needed on a young Indians club entering a pennant race in the AL Central.

The Indians have two pitchers in Carlos Carrasco and Fausto Carmona who get rattled on the mound and seem to fall apart as the pressure rises. While with the Tampa Bay Rays, Pena  dealt with a temperamental pitcher in Matt Garza and certainly can act as a pressure relief valve for Carrasco and Carmona before either falls victim to the pending implosion. This is especially important in the absence of Orlando Cabrera as an everyday infielder.

As mentioned, the Indians will not have the veteran Orlando Cabrera at second base as the Indians have called up Jason Kipnis to get the majority of playing time at second base.  This means that the Indians will have two rookies logging a large quantity of innings in the infield and neither Lonnie Chisenhall or Jason Kipnis are considered to be stellar defenders rather defense is an area of concern for both. More than likely both are going to be over aggressive and make a fair amount wild throws over to first. A gold glove caliber defender will be able to handle those throws and either record the out or at the least prevent the extra base from being taken.

Although Carlos Pena is a left handed bat he'd be a welcome addition to the middle of the Indians order following Asdrubal Cabrera (switch hitter), Travis Hafner (left handed bat), and Carlos Santana (switch hitter).  Pena has a slash line of .227/.341/.458 with 20 HR and a .341 wOBA.  Although he strikes out at a tremendous rate of 26.6% of plate appearances he also walks at a high 14.4% of plate appearances. His left handed bat will be a detriment against left handed pitching but his defense and on-field leadership makes up for these at-bats. The Indians could still choose to play Carlos Santana at 1b to give Pena a rest against left handed pitching. (could you ask for a better 1b tutor for Santana then Carlos Pena?)

The question that will come up most often is what do the Indians do with Matt LaPorta? My answer is does it really matter? LaPorta has been given an opportunity this year and hasn't distinguished himself as a valuable everyday player. His slash line is .242/.302/.407 with 8 HR  and a wOBA of .311 doesn't breed the confidence to run him out there everyday. LaPorta also strikes out 21% of plate appearances but only walks 6.2% of plate appearances. Even though not utilized in the outfield during the series in Minnesota, could LaPorta occasionally play LF? I would suggest that he could, especially in Progressive Field where the position isn't as challenging as it may be in other parks.

Carlos Pena will provide another voice in the locker room and along with Orlando Cabrera can provide the young Indians guidance through a period where every series will seem like the playoffs and every game will begin to feel like Game 7 of the World Series. The 2011 Cleveland Indians are similar to the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays in the sense that the same arguments used to predict the fate of the 2008 Rays (too young, no experienced starting pitching, fold under pressure) are being used to predict the fate of the 2011 Indians. Pena can serve as the voice to tell the young guys why they "can" win the AL Central.

Finally, all things being equal, Carlos Pena may cost less than some of the other names being tossed around.  For example, Melky Cabrera is arbitration eligible so he doesn't have to be moved, the Royals hold a 4 million dollar 2012 club option on Jeff Francouer so trading him isn't a must, the Padres and A's will most certainly will move Ryan Ludwick and Coco Crisp respectively but the competition of suitors will drive the price up.

What is the market for Carlos Pena? Looking at the teams that are considered contenders, most have a 1b or a DH; therefore, only a handful of teams will inquire about Pena.  The list included the Arizona
Diamondbacks, the Pittsburgh Pirates,  the Cleveland Indians, and maybe the Los Angeles Angels. The Cubs will have to decide whether to take a prospect plus salary relief in a deal for Pena or hold onto him for the remainder of the year and possible work out a contract extension for 2012. Of course, the Cubs may offer him arbitration at the end of the year and land a compensation pick in next years draft (Pena will most certainly be a Type B free agent).

In my opinion, the Indians have an opportunity to pick up more overall value (leadership, gold glove defense, and a power bat in the middle of the lineup) for a much less cost (in terms of prospects) than other trades being rumored.  Additionally, the cost in terms of the prospect to pick up Carlos Pena should not prevent the Indians from pursuing a starting pitcher, right handed hitting outfielder, or an experienced back end reliever. The only question is whether or not the Indians ownership will approve the additional salaries of Pena and a secondary component.

Finally, let's not forget that the Indians and Cubs pulled a  New Years Eve day deal  for Mark DeRosa in 2008 without much pre-trade hype, so the two organizations have a channel of communication that is quiet and secure.  I'm not so sure the Indians are interested in picking up Carlos Pena, but the longer that there is silence regarding him the more I'll wonder if a deal may happen.

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