Carlos Pena looks like he's 30 again. He's only 33, but still.
Pena’s two run homer Wednesday night gave him a team leading 18 for the season. Thirty five HR and 90 RBI are a realistic possibility for the first-year Cub. Stats you would expect out of a player making $10 million.
It only makes sense for the Cubs to trade Pena before this season’s trade deadline. The team is going nowhere this year, and Pena’s hot hitting isn’t nearly enough to settle one’s stomach when watching whatever social security-eligible starting pitcher the Cubs choose to hand the ball to.
Pena certainly will draw interest from offensively challenged teams. Pena’s power and ability to drive in runs are certainly attractive, and although his .225 batting average is ugly, he still sports a respectable .343 OBP. The left-hander’s playoff statistics are even better. In 19 career playoff games he's hit .269 with 4 HR and 14 RBI. Pena also comes with no baggage and is widely considered throughout baseball to be a great teammate.
Perhaps the Giants would be interested, and could creatively move Aubrey Huff to another spot on the diamond as they have in the past. A typical deadline trading partner of the Cubs, the Pirates would potentially be interested in buying hitting, barring a collapse before the deadline. Pittsburgh has certainly helped the Cubs out with trades in recent years, and Chicago could return the favor by giving them an upgrade over Lyle Overbay.
Pena’s defense is so good that if he were traded to an American League team, it could be to play first base, and a team’s current first baseman could move to DH. Odds are that if Pena is traded, it would be in the National League, but the option of going back to the AL remains a possibility.
The Cubs shouldn’t look at Pena as a long-term option, especially with the possibility of scoring Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder in free agency this offseason. Pena is 33 this year, and though still producing, is undoubtedly on the back half of his career. Lance Berkman and Casey Kotchman will also be free agents this offseason, and the Cubs could pursue one of them for the short term should they strike out on Fielder and Pujols.
Tyler Colvin remains an option to play first base should he turn things around in the minor leagues, and the team could also consider giving slugging catcher Wellington Castillo at bats in the majors at first. The Cubs signed Pena to a one year deal with the 2012 free agency period in mind, and should see the ability to get something for him as a plus.
Pena also won’t get any cheaper. The Cubs signed him to a $10 million contract after hitting .196 with 28 HR and 84 RBI last season. Pena will likely exceed those numbers this year, and his agent Scott Boras will likely look for more money and multiple years in his client’s new contract.
There are a number of ways the Cubs can go when trading Pena. They could look for a third baseman to replace free agent to be Aramis Ramirez, or look for pitching in any other team’s farm system. It really doesn’t matter. The Cubs never planned on keeping Pena past this season, and should get what they can for him with the future in mind.