Mooney: Pujols shadow doesn't bother Pena

Mooney: Pujols shadow doesn't bother Pena
February 17, 2011, 11:05 pm
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Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011
Posted 5:08 p.m. Updated 6:06 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Carlos Pena made direct eye contact and thoughtfully considered each question. He speaks in full paragraphs and certainly doesnt sound like a mercenary.

But this is business. Scott Boras, baseballs most powerful agent, described it as a pillow contract, the one-year, 10 million deal that could give Pena the platform to command three times that as a free agent.

In return, the Cubs receive a left-handed power hitter and a Gold Glove first baseman without having to make a long-term financial commitment.

I dont know if that was a technical term, Pena said Thursday with a laugh. But I dont even care what they called it. It was more just (being) happy to come to this city. When I put this uniform on, Im like, Hey man, Im here. This is my ballclub. This is my team. This is where I belong.

Before Pena had even arrived for his first day of work at Fitch Park, this arrangement led to wild speculation that Albert Pujols will be the Cubs first baseman in 2012. Some 2,300 miles away in Jupiter, Fla., Pujols reported to Cardinals camp on Thursday and reaffirmed that he wont discuss a contract extension until seasons end.

I havent even given it enough attention for it to be amusing to me, Pena said. Im here, Im a Cub today and Im just going to embrace that.

Pena will turn 33 in May and averaged 36 homers and 102 RBI across the past four seasons in Tampa Bay. But fans will look at his .196 batting average last year and wonder how far hes regressed.

Thats not me, he said. It wouldnt be intelligent on my part to carry that piece of luggage on my back (and) let it be the number that identifies me. Its not even an issue. Thats in the past. (I) know the type of player I am, so I pretty much erased that out of my mind.

Pena, who studied engineering at Northeastern University, is an analytical type. He traveled to Dallas last month to spend a week with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, who broke down his swing and encouraged him to keep it simple.

The Cubs are in trouble if Pena, who dealt with plantar fascia last season, doesnt stay healthy. On Thursday he worked out at first base with Tyler Colvin and Jeff Baker, two players with limited experience at the position. He should be a resource to anyone in the clubhouse.

Hes one of the best around, (both) on and off the field, said new Cubs pitcher Matt Garza, who played with Pena in Tampa Bay. Hes always open and very, very positive. Hes just a guy who lights up the room.

The Cubs do not have a long-term option at first base, unless they fully commit to converting Colvin. You can look at Penas one-year contract as motivation or distraction, but he gets rave reviews as a teammate.

Thats a character issue, manager Mike Quade said. Whether he had a one-year, a one-week, a 10-year (deal), I think you get the same guy.

Pena dodged a question about whether he would sign another contract with the Cubs if everything broke right, saying its foolish to look too far into the future, that it will only hurt the team. Hes found a place in Chicago, but good advice would be to rent, not buy.

Still, Pena came across as genuinely excited about this opportunity. Hes looking forward to seeing 40,000 fans on Opening Day at Wrigley Field, even if its a one-time deal.

Thats going to be intense, Pena said. I cant wait to feel that type of energy, man. I keep on hearing (about) it. (But) until I experience it, I wont know exactly what (they) mean. I read about it (and) players tell me about it. But when I feel those chills myself, thats when Ill understand what being a Cub really means.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.