Detroit Tigers: Catcher Brayan Pena Might Have Bigger Role Than Expected in 2013

Josh BerenterCorrespondent IDecember 12, 2012

KANSAS CITY, MO - JUNE 24: Brayan Pena #27 of the Kansas City Royals pumps his fist as he scores on a Jarrod Dyson triple during an interleague game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Kauffman Stadium on June 24, 2012 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images

On Monday, the Detroit Tigers signed Brayan Pena to a one-year contract, reportedly worth less than $1 million, to be the backup catcher next season, replacing Gerald Laird.

Seems like an under-the-radar acquisition that won't come with a lot of expectations, right?

Well, Pena might get more than he bargained for next season if the player he's backing up—Alex Avila—continues to struggle.

Pena comes to the Tigers from the Kansas City Royals, where last season he hit .236 with two home runs and 25 RBI in 68 games.

He played sporadically with the Atlanta Braves to start his career from 2005 to 2008, playing in just 71 games in four years. The 30-year-old switch-hitter never played more than 72 games in a season, and after spending the last four seasons with the Royals, he has a career average of .248.

With that resume, you wouldn't think Pena would be much of a factor for the Tigers next season, but Avila badly struggled last year, and if he doesn't turn his offense around, Pena might be counted on more than expected.

Avila had a breakout year in 2011, averaging .292 with 19 home runs and 82 RBI in 141 games, but last season, he battled injuries and couldn't find any consistency, hitting just .243 with nine home runs and 48 RBI in 116 games.

Going into his fifth MLB season—all with the Tigers—Avila needs to stay in the lineup and produce at the plate. He had trouble doing both of those things last season, which potentially makes Pena's job that much more important.

Pena has never had an integral role on a winning team, but if Avila continues to struggle, or finds his way onto the disabled list a time or two, Pena could become a crucial piece to the Tigers' championship puzzle.

Pena replaces Laird, who signed a two-year deal with the Braves, and will have big shoes to fill in the backup role.

Laird had a great year—as far as backups go—for the Tigers last season. He hit .282, with two home runs and 11 RBI in 63 games.

Laird stepped in for Avila when he went down with a hamstring strain in June and missed 13 games. He also stepped in frequently when Avila needed a day or two off, and production behind the plate didn't suffer in Avila's absence.

Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski pointed to Pena's ability to switch-hit when examining his value to Detroit.

"We are pleased to add an experienced catcher like Brayan Pena to our club," Dombrowski said in a release, according to "As a switch-hitter, he will serve as a solid complement to Alex Avila as our backup catcher for the 2013 season."

Pena's value will depend on Avila's production.

If Avila's success in 2011 was more of an aberration than his abysmal performance last year, Pena might be counted on more than he's accustomed to.