Carlos Pena Should Be the Pittsburgh Pirates' Next Free-Agent Pickup

Shawn McGrathContributor IIDecember 21, 2011

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 15: Carlos Pena #22 of the Chicago Cubs follows through on a two-run homer in the first inning during the game against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on September 15, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

It is time for Pittsburgh Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington to seize the day.

Albert Pujols is headed to West Coast, the Milwaukee Brewers are increasingly pessimistic about their chances of signing Prince Fielder, and NL MVP Ryan Braun could be derailed for 50 games next year after testing positive for a banned substance.

If there was ever a time to get a big bat into a Pittsburgh uniform, that time is now.

Many will argue that Garrett Jones is sufficient enough for the job, or that Derrek Lee should return to Pittsburgh.

I'm here to debunk those arguments.

Garrett Jones has been a spark in the Pirates lineup ever since bursting onto the scene in 2009. He has delivered more than anyone could have reasonably expected, and he is an obvious fan favorite. But, all things considered, Jones is not a starting first baseman.

Jones has been absolutely atrocious against left handed pitching. In 2011, Jones put up a .181 on base percentage in 72 plate appearances against lefties. To put that in perspective, Zack Greinke compiled a .192 on base percentage in 59 plate appearances last year—it was his first year in the NL.



While Pena is not great against left handed pitching, he is not a near automatic out.

He had a .260 on base percentage last year against lefties, but more than made up for that with his .892 OPS from the other side of the plate. In other words, Pena is not bad enough to make you cringe against south paws, but he is good enough to instill terror in right handed hurlers.

Considering Jones' struggles with lefties, that would only leave Derrek Lee as a starting option, or a possible platoon candidate with Jones. But would Derrek Lee really sign with Pittsburgh knowing he would be thrown into a platoon?

Probably not.

Lee is currently 36 years old. He went on a tear with Pittsburgh after he was acquired at the trade deadline, putting up an OPS that he only surpassed in his 2005 MVP season.

But, it's hard to imagine that happening again. Considering his career trend, it would be more likely to see Lee replicate his not so impressive numbers from Baltimore in 2011. Injuries also could start to rear their ugly head late in Lee's career. An unavoidable pitch on the hand derailed Lee for a time last year. And, while that's not enough evidence to call Lee "injury prone," the Pirates wouldn't be wise to expect him to play 162 games.

Earlier in December, Neal Huntington swapped reliever Jose Veras for Casey McGehee. While McGehee is a solid option at third base if Pedro Alvarez falters, he should not be looked at as the starting first baseman.

McGehee had a solid major league career leading up to a disappointing 2011 campaign, where he struggled to keep his OPS above .600, and he had the first negative WAR of his career.

The Pirates desperately need that middle-of-the-lineup bat that they thought Pedro Alvarez would be last year. Huntington would be wise to sign Carlos Pena before Prince Fielder goes off the market.

Once Prince goes, all eyes are on Pena. Who knows what Pena could accomplish in Pittsburgh.

The Pirates must take initiative and let Pena swing his big bat at the Clemente Wall next season.