The Rays are known for giving players a second chance to prove to the world of baseball that they have covetable talents. Sometimes, the Rays will even give players a third chance, especially if you’re Carlos Pena.
In 2002, only the second year of his career, Pena bounced around to three different teams, where he eventually ended up with the Detroit Tigers. By 2004, Pena was a star in Detroit, establishing himself as a power hitter with a .241/.338/.472 line, hitting 27 homers and drawing 70 walks. Pena’s defensive abilities at first base also made him a stand out player. His numbers dipped in 2005, and Pena was demoted to the Tigers’ Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens for half of the season. However, the Tigers released Pena during spring training in 2006, and he spent time with both the New York Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate, the Columbus Clippers, and the Boston Red Sox’s Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox throughout the season. Pena was called up to Boston in early September, where he played 18 games with the Red Sox.
But lo and behold, the Devil Rays saw something in Pena that other teams did not, and they signed him to a minor league deal in 2007 with an invitation to spring training. Pena became the D-Rays’ starting first baseman that season and went on to have the best season of his career with his new team.
Pena set career records and D-Rays franchise records in 2007, including records for home runs (46), walks (103), slugging percentage (.627), and on-base percentage (.411), only to name a few. Pena’s bat was so hot that he hit a homerun in every 10.5 at bats. To seal the deal, Pena was named the American League’s Comeback Player of the Year, proving that the Devil Rays found one of baseball’s best reclamation projects.
Pena continued to deliver for the Rays, and he received plenty of recognition for his success. In 2008, the first baseman won his first AL Gold Glove, with a fielding percentage of .998.
He was named to the 2009 All-Star Game and tied the Yankees’ Mark Teixera for the most homeruns in the AL with 39.
In 2010, his final year during his first stint with the Rays, Pena’s average dropped to .196 with only 28 homers. While most players would gladly accept hitting “only 28 homeruns for the season,” Pena’s luster was fading.
During the offseason, the Chicago Cubs signed Pena to a one-year contract worth $10 million for the 2011 season, where he hit .225 with 28 home runs and 103 RBI. It was a respectable season for Pena, but nothing compared to the power he once displayed in Tampa Bay.
People say there’s no place like home, and that’s exactly what the Rays proved when they brought fan favorite Pena back to Tampa Bay in 2012. Pena signed a one-year, $7.25 million deal.
Pena quickly reminded the Rays and their fans why they love him when he hit a hit a grand slam off of CC Sabathia in his first at bat on Opening Day at the Trop. Pena went on to get the game-winning hit off of Mariano Rivera, giving people high expectations for his season. While he still had the solid defensive skills fans were used to seeing, the thrill of Pena’s homecoming died down and his offensive numbers began to slide again. He finished the season hitting only .197 with 19 homers and career high 182 strikeouts.
While Pena’s second stint with the Rays was not as successful as both hoped it would be, overall, Pena’s five seasons with the Rays were enjoyable to watch. From 2007-2009, Pena gave the Rays his best seasons as a player, and they gave him the chance to prove to the rest of the sport that he was worth more than his past disappointments. Although his return in 2012 was below par, Pena’s positive presence in the clubhouse and popularity with fans still made him valuable as a player. No matter what people think when looking at the first baseman’s stats, they cannot deny that Carlos Pena will always be a beloved player in Tampa Bay.