Chicago Sun-Times
with sports reporters Chris De Luca and Gordon Wittenmyer

Newest Cub Pena ``excited'' about Cubs, ``platform season''

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The $10-million, one-year deal the Cubs struck overnight with Carlos Pena landed them one of their top target of the winter - giving them the left-handed power bat they've sought for years along with Gold Glove fielding and a guy respected throughout the game as a smart, personable guy and great teammate.

The Cubs targeted Pena and switch-hitting Lance Berkman to replace Derrek Lee at first base, and when Berkman signed with St. Louis in the past week, the pressure was on to try and make a deal work with Pena.

Cubs officials were jacked all day after the deal got done, even as they turned their attention toward bolstering the pitching staff.

So what's in it for Pena, who surprised the Cubs by being receptive to their one-year overtures despite having multi-year offers on the table from other teams?

Perhaps most of all, it gives Pena and agent Scott Boras what Pena called a ``platform year'' to rebuild his long-term value after a .196, 28-homer season hampered by a painful foot injury.

He also relishes the chance to rejoin the hitting coach he had as a rookie in Texas (Rudy Jaramillo) and he says he's been a fan of the Cubs and Wrigley Field since watching the team on TV as a kid.

Here's what Pena, 32, had to say Wednesday on a variety of topics:

On the affects of plantar fasciitis on his down 2010 season:

``It hurt. But I'm past that now. I don't like making excuses for what happened. The fact that last year wasn't up to par by my standards, regardless of the home runs, regardless of the RBIs, I wish I would have done better, and I know I have more in the tank. I'll put that behind me and learn from it and use it to my advantage. If anything, I've taken my punches, and I have a tough chin. I can take the punches. And I can stay in the ring. I'm still standing.''

On the health of his foot now:

``I feel 100 percent. ... It's a non-issue.''

On signing with the Cubs, in general:

``I'm extremely excited. This is definitely a blessing. It's a team that I used to watch when I was a kid [in the Dominican Republic and later the Boston area], from the likes of George Bell, being back in the Dominican Republic, I used to watch him a lot. I'm very excited just to wear the uniform. I love Chicago. It's one of my [favorite] cities to visit so to be able to live there and play for this organization that has so much history and tradition, and where the fans have so much passion for the game, I could not be happier. I think it's an ideal situation for me, and I can't wait to put the uniform on.''

On the attraction to the franchise and Wrigley Field:

``We have a park, the history, what can I say? It's truly one of those teams that when you're a kid you kind of dream about playing for. When I was 10 years old, I used to watch George Bell, Ryne Sandberg, [Shawon] Dunston, Andre Dawson. It was as regular thing at home, and I'm very happy to be part of this ballclub.''

On why a one-year deal appealed to him:

``When I looked at all of my options and the teams that were interested [also Washington, Baltimore, Seattle and Atlanta], I just thought this was the perfect fit for me. And I also like that fact that this is a platform year for me, to come in, be a 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. So I think it was a perfect situation for me. And the Cubs expressed extreme interest. And I want to be in a place where I'm wanted, and I definitely feel that they have faith in me. I'm going to honor that.''

On why his numbers were down last season and his confidence that he can return to previous career levels:

``I'm extremely confident. I don't tend to look back on my failures and dwell upon them. I just feel that I've had a lot of adversity throughout my career and a lot of difficulties. At the same time, I have enjoyed a lot of successes, too. So if anything, I think that all of those difficulties have made me stronger and a better player and a better person and a better man. So instead of dwelling upon that, I kind of embrace the fact that it was a difficult year and I should be a little bit more polished now after going through the fire. So I feel like the Cubs get a more mature player, a player that's been through the ups and downs of baseball and [who's] extremely optimistic and extremely excited, with a great attitude towards the future.''

On reuniting with Cubs hitting coach Jaramillo:

``I looked at the whole entire situation and Rudy Jaramillo is obviously very well regarded in this game. I know him from the past, with the Rangers, and I had the opportunity to work with him also when I came in to visit Texas when he was there. I'm very, very happy with the fact that he's going to be my hitting coach. I look forward to working with him and I know he can help me. ... Going back to Rudy and working with him is kind of going back to basics and going to what's natural for me. I started with the Texas Rangers and Rudy was there and I know his philosophy.''

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Of the choices available not named Adrian Gonzalez, Carlos Pena was by far the best option for the Cubs... especially with a 1-year contract. Next year's FA class of first-basemen will include Albert Pujols, Nick Swisher, and Carlos Pena. For the Cubs organization, getting Mr. Pena under contract for only 1 year gives them options that a multi-year deal would have negated.

I am very happy for the Cubs' infielders, replacing D. Lee's sure-handed glove with Carlos Pena's. Starlin Castro's confidence will benefit immensely from having a dependable glove to throw to, as will Aramis Ramirez's defensive stats in his rebound/contract year. Everyone knows Mr. Pena's power numbers are going to be there, and if he can take advantage of the weaker pitching in the N.L. Central (compared the the beasts of the A.L. East), this deal could be a difference-maker for the Cubbies.

With regard to the 2011 season as a whole, there remain a slew of maybe's... DeWitt/Baker/Barney as the 3-headed beast producing offensively at 2nd base; Pena's ability to prove himself more than a feast-or-famine hitter (when he's not taking a base on balls); Aramis Ramirez proving his first half in 2010 was a fluke (and not an indication of decline); Starlin Castro & Tyler Colvin fending off the likelihood of a "sophomore slump;" how the progress and development in the pen of our youngsters will define the middle-innings for the pitching staff (Maine, Cashner, Samardzija, and at least on other young arm in the collection need to step up and produce); Soto's ability to stay healthy; Silva's ability to replicate his 1st half numbers; and, last but not least, Mr. Soriano's ability to produce in the ballpark of the value of his bloated contract. If several of these "if's" fall into place for the team, the 2011 edition of the Cubs could make the Reds, Cardinals, and the whole of the N.L. take notice; however, if these "maybe's" follow the pattern of the first half of the 2010 season, it will be a very long summer in Wrigley. The Pena signing, though, was a good start. Mr. Hendry still has some work to do.

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This page contains a single entry by Gordon Wittenmyer published on December 8, 2010 7:48 PM.

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