ORLANDO, Fla. -- The talk Wednesday was of "platform years" and "pillow contracts," with a couple of boxing metaphors thrown in for good measure.
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It all had to do with the Cubs signing free-agent first baseman Carlos Pena to a one-year contract worth $10 million. The Cubs will pay $5 million during the season and the other $5 million in early 2012.
The 32-year-old Pena is coming off a down season in 2010 with The Tampa Bay Rays. He had a hitting line of .196/.325/.407 with 28 home runs and 84 RBI.
Given those numbers and the one-year contract, 2011 figures to be a pretty important year for the left-handed hitting Pena.
"I think when I looked at all of my options, and the teams that were interested, I just thought this was the perfect fit for me," said Pena, who has 230 home runs lifetime, including 46 in 2007 with Tampa Bay. "And I also like the fact that this is a platform year for me, you know, to come in, be part of a great organization, have the opportunity to just go out there and play my game.
"And who knows? After a great season, then the future will look even brighter."
That had to be what agent Scott Boras was thinking. If Pena has a big year with the Cubs in 2011, he can hit the open market again.
"This contract, really, the premise of it was a lot like what we did last year with Adrian Beltre and the Red Sox," Boras said. "You have a quality organization, and they had a fit and a need, and you also had a player that had exhibited extraordinary abilities. I think everybody in the game knows that when a man can hit an average of 35-plus home runs over the past four seasons and has a lifetime average that is 40 points above what his prior seasons was, that the metrics will make the adjustment. And the average of both his power will be present and certainly with also the presence of (hitting coach) Rudy Jaramillo who worked with Carlos when he was a younger player really had all of the flavor of what we call a pillow contract.
"There's a lot of comforts. It's a one-year situation. It's a dynamic that you can't really expect the marketplace to address."
Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, who is under the gun after the team missed the postseason for a second straight year, said he didn't believe the deal would be a hard sell in Chicago.
"No, I don't believe so," he said. "The four-year look-back is 36 home runs a year and over 100 runs (driven in). Even with the batting average where it was, you're looking at 28 home runs. Look at the people who are signing long-term, multiyear, huge contracts who were hitting less by far. The game's about run production and runs scored.
"Obviously, I don't think that number, the batting average, is going to happen again. If he hit .240 last year and 35 home runs, you wouldn't be looking at a one-year contract. It's not a gamble. It's a real good fit."
Pena played in 144 games this year and suffered from plantar fascia in his right foot, an ailment that put him on the disabled list in August.
He shifted the conversation away from 2010 more than once when talk turned to his batting average or his foot injury.
"It hurt," he said of the foot. "But I'm past that now. I don't like making excuses for what happened. At the very least. I kind of embrace those type of obstacles, the difficulties, and actually give thanks for them. It makes us stronger. Instead of me dwelling on the fact that last year was not up to par, up to my standards, regardless of the home runs, regardless of the RBIs, obviously, I wish I would have done better. I know that I have more in the tank to offer.
"In boxing terms, I have a tough chin, so I can take some punches. I can stay in the ring. I'm still standing, so I'm going to keep on going."
Given his power potential, Pena will be a "middle-of-the-order guy," according to manager Mike Quade.
Pena was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and his family moved to Haverhill, Mass., when he was 12. He attended Wright State University and Northeastern University.
The Texas Rangers took him in the first round of the 1998 draft. Pena has played for the Rangers, Tigers, Red Sox and Rays. He won the Silver Slugger Award with Tampa Bay in 2007 and the Gold Glove in 2008.
"I do take a lot of pride in my defense," he said. "It's always been embedded in me since I was a little kid. My dad always mentioned and made reference to guys like Tony Fernandez, these great shortstops from the Dominican Republic, where defense was always highly regarded. It's actually that's something that's part of my being."
Pena has never played in Wrigley Field, but he called it a "cathedral." He also said he is looking forward to playing for Quade, who led the Cubs to a 24-13 record over the final six weeks of the season.
"I couldn't imagine a better scenario for me as far as getting a fresh start in a place like Chicago with a skipper that's just extremely hungry and looking forward to bringing the city of Chicago a championship," he said. "Just to be part of that is really an honor."