Monday, January 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay Rays re-sign first baseman Carlos Peña

ST. PETERSBURG — Carlos Peña can be a loquacious and inspirational speaker, but on Friday he needed only two words — well, and five exclamation points — in a text message to convey how he felt about returning to the Rays:

"Sooooo excited ... !!!!!"

Peña is headed back after agreeing to terms on a one-year, $7.25 million contract that is expected to be officially announced — and thoroughly discussed — after his physical exam on Tuesday.

The deal is the second step, following last week's signing of DH Luke Scott, of what the Rays project to be a significant upgrade of their offense.

Peña averaged 36 homers and 102 RBIs during his 2007-10 stint with the Rays, while playing stellar defense and providing clubhouse leadership, and both he and the team would welcome a repeat performance.

"I'm pumped he's back," pitcher David Price said. "Great guy on the field but even better in the clubhouse. Hopefully he can do what he's done the last five years and hit a ton of homers for us. And he's a stud on D, too."

Peña, 33, was among the high-salaried players who left the Rays after the 2010 season, signing a one-year, $10 million deal with the Cubs (and hitting 28 homers), but saying the Rays were special to him and he hoped to return one day.

The opportunity presented itself as the Rays sought to improve an offense that finished eighth in the American League (and last among East teams) in runs while not diminishing their baseball-best defense. And they were willing to spend to do so, their payroll increased about 50 percent to about $63 million from last season's $41 million.

Scott replaced Johnny Damon, and now Peña has done so to Casey Kotchman, the St. Petersburg native and Seminole High product who had an impressive bounceback season in 2011, hitting .306, though with only 10 homers and 48 RBIs.

In a text message Kotchman said: "I had fun playing with my AWESOME teammates at home in front of my friends and family!" The Indians are said to be interested.

The Peña package includes a low batting average and high number of strikeouts (.238, and an average of 157 during four seasons in Tampa Bay), but the Rays were obviously more interested in the power potential.

With Peña and Scott the Rays have a deep and balanced lineup that features at least six hitters capable of 20-plus homers — also Matt Joyce, Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton and Ben Zobrist — and potentially a seventh, as Desmond Jennings hit 10 in 63 games as a rookie last season. There are still concerns at shortstop, where Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez will compete, and catcher, where Jose Molina is the only experienced player.

"The lineup is shaping up pretty nicely," Longoria said.

"It's looking pretty good," pitcher James Shields said. "I'm excited. Carlos is awesome. He's a leader. He's got a great attitude and brings it every day. We need that in our clubhouse. We need guys like that in our clubhouse."

Peña resuscitated his career when he came to the Rays in 2007 on a minor-league contract, having been released by Detroit the previous spring and spending most of 2006 in the minors. He hit 46 homers and drove in 121 runs (with a .282 average) in 2007 and finished ninth in the AL MVP voting, won a Gold Glove while hitting 31 in 2008 and made the All-Star team in 2009 on the way to hitting 39. He dropped off to 28 homers — with 84 RBIs and a .196 average — in 2010.

He also has a large impact in the clubhouse, where he provides a perpetually positive attitude and bilingual leadership on a daily basis and has delivered several impassioned speeches, most famously before Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS against Boston.

"Carlos was a part of the Rays family and everyone knows what kind of guy he is," Shields said. "He's a really good teammate, a really good guy to have."

"He's a great player and a solid clubhouse guy," Longoria said. "I'm excited to welcome him back."

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow his coverage on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.

Lined up

The Rays will — naturally — consider numerous batting orders, especially vs. right- and left-handed pitchers. Here's one way they could line up, basically alternating right-handed (R) and left-handed (L) hitters:

1. LF Desmond Jennings (R)

2. DH Luke Scott (L)

3. 3B Evan Longoria (R)

4. 1B Carlos Peña (L)

5. 2B Ben Zobrist (S)

6. CF B.J. Upton (R)

7. RF Matt Joyce (L)

8. C Jose Molina (R)

9. SS Sean Rodriguez (R) or Reid Brignac (L)

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