Ramifications of the Rays’ Signing of Carlos Pena


The Rays have signed Carlos Pena to a one year deal worth 7.25 million dollars. How will that affect the Rays in 2012? There is one obvious effect that anyone could tell you. But then there’s a possible upshot of this signing that could be pretty shocking.

The obvious effect is that the Rays now have their starting first baseman and a middle-of-the-order bat. Here’s what the Rays lineup could look like in 2012.

1. Desmond Jennings, LF

2. B.J. Upton, CF

3. Evan Longoria, 3B

4. Carlos Pena, 1B

5. Ben Zobrist, 2B

6. Luke Scott, DH

7. Matt Joyce, RF

8. Jose Molina, C

9. Reid Brignac, SS

(The 8 spot also be inhabited by Jose Lobaton and Robinson Chirinos and Sean Rodriguez will split time with Brignac at SS and in the 9 hole.)

I have to say that the top 7 in this lineup looks really good, and if Brignac can rebound in 2012 and put his talent on display, they could have an excellent 8/9 of their lineup. Catcher remains a problem. Nevertheless, trading Pena for Russ Canzler/Brandon Guyer in the lineup is certainly an upgrade.

But there’s more going on here than that. A legitimate question now is whether Guyer will start the season at Triple-A Durham even after dominating there in 2011. But then there’s a possible conspiracy theory- could the Rays be about to trade B.J. Upton?

Think about it this way: this is a Rays team that was no sure bet to pick up an option on James Shields‘ contract that was worth just 7 million dollars. And then you have Upton, who signed a one-year, 7 million dollar contract with the Rays, avoiding arbitration. Where are the Rays making this money to sign Pena from?

One possible answer is that Rays owner Stu Sternberg is optimistic that the Rays’ attendance will improve significantly in 2012. But while that’s probably what any Rays committed Rays fan would want to believe, Mr. Sternberg has never made any statement indicating that, and one meeting with the mayor of St. Pete could not have had this much of an impact.

Is Upton definitely about to be traded? No. Maybe Mr. Sternberg is just taking a calculated gamble here. But a B.J. Upton trade makes a lot more sense now. We already mentioned Guyer and I’ve talked about him a bunch of times lately (most recently here). He’s ready to step into a major league role, and he has the talent to be as good of a player if not better than Upton has been thus far as a major leaguer. No, I’m not saying that Guyer’s upside rivals Upton’s upside from he was the 2nd overall pick in 2002, but Guyer can be as good as Upton has been the past four years. This lineup could potentially be better than the lineup above.

1. Desmond Jennings, CF

2. Ben Zobrist, 2B

3. Evan Longoria, 3B

4. Carlos Pena, 1B

5. Luke Scott, DH

6. Matt Joyce, LF

7. Brandon Guyer, RF

8. The Catcher

9. Reid Brignac, SS

It doesn’t make any sense for Ben Zobrist and Matt Joyce to be hitting 6th and 7th and now they get to hit 2nd and 6th respectively. This lineup loses a well-known player and adds in an unproven rookie, but if Guyer can come anywhere near living up to his potential as a rookie, this lineup could still be very good. And this goes without mentioning the haul the Rays would receive in a potential trade. The Rays would have to receive a near-big league ready catcher, something they desperately need, and then they’ll get high upside prospects to help replenish their farm system a little bit. The Rays are in win-now mode, but a B.J. Upton trade right now doesn’t take them out of that and sets them up to be better in coming years as well. Remember that Upton will leave as a free agent in 2012. Trading Upton now would be the way the Rays could get the maximum possible haul for him. Maybe the Carlos Pena signing breaks the last barrier impeding the Rays from trading Upton.