Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010
Posted 10:14 PM
By Patrick Mooney
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - No doubt the Cubs have stayed in the headlines, but until Wednesday they hadn't been involved in many baseball rumors, much less actual news.
This has been the "Undercover Boss" offseason, the marquee painted purple for a college football game and fans mourning Ron Santo outside Wrigley Field, the renovation of which still remains a political flash point.
But by signing first baseman Carlos Pena, the Cubs addressed their single biggest need and put the focus back on the field. And general manager Jim Hendry insisted that he's not finished.
With the deferred payments on the 10 million deal, Hendry can keep searching for a right-handed reliever and another starting pitcher through trades and the free-agent market.
The Cubs continue to do background work on Brandon Webb's medical reports and there is the sense that they will be among the final two or three teams he eventually chooses from.
Webb finished first or second in the Cy Young Award voting for three consecutive years but hasn't pitched in a real game since Opening Day 2009.
If Webb's right shoulder checks out, the Cubs could be interested. They seem inclined to take a chance on a pitcher like that rather than make a blockbuster deal. One source indicated that Zack Greinke is completely out of their price range.
For now you can stop asking questions about Tyler Colvin playing first base, at least through 2011, after which the Cubs will shed approximately 40 million from their payroll. The contracts of Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome and Carlos Silva will be off the books by the 2012 season.
The Cubs could allocate some of those resources to Pena if he reverses his trend line - you get the feeling Chicago talk radio will have a hard time letting go of that .196 batting average last season - but if not they'll move in another direction.
Pena, who will turn 33 in May, should be motivated to market himself for that next window of opportunity. On a roster where Alfonso Soriano is still only halfway through his 136 million contract, it seems like a reasonable investment.
And on a team that was flawed defensively by any metric - the problems weren't isolated to Soriano - Pena is supposed to approximate three-time Gold Glove winner Derrek Lee. Pena's presence - as well as the natural growth of a second-year player - should make Starlin Castro a more reliable shortstop.
"We needed to play better defense," Hendry said. "Our defense in hindsight was not good and that affects a lot of things. First base is always a category where you can find different types of players. He's a rare guy that has that much power and plays (great) defense."
Pena is thoughtful and articulate and seemed totally at ease on Wednesday with round after round of interviews. It sounded like he won't be flustered by all the attention inside the Wrigley Field fishbowl. We'll see what type of player he can still be.
"I know that I have more (to) offer," Pena said. "I put that behind me. I still have to make peace with it, learn from it and make sure that I grow and use it to my advantage.
"In boxing terms (I have) a tough chin. (I) can take some punches. I can stay in the ring. I'm still standing."
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.