I still remember the Friday afternoon in the Spring of 2007 when I got a voicemail from someone within the Tampa Bay Rays front office that Carlos Pena was originally going to sign a minor league deal to play for the Rays. Still remember the sudden rush of excitement I had bubbling within me that a guy with such awesome offensive and defensive potential was going to be positioned at First Base for this Rays team.
The Rays staffer who left the message on my phone played with Pena in the Summer Cape Cod League and knew firsthand Pena’s ability to bring strong and confident leadership qualities to this team along with the graceful power hidden within his maple bats. This Rays staffer had played beside Pena at second base and had seen for himself the uncanny grace of Pena’s defensive magic and the confidence and charm Pena emulates and could bring to a young Rays team both on and off the field.
So here we are 4 years later and Pena has seen his stock rise from a minor league player to potentially receiving the largest contract of his career this Winter. Even with his name now removed from the Rays 40-man roster as a Free Agent, Pena holds a deep love and affection for his old team. Pena’s impending actions this Winter must now speak louder than his eloquent words if he even remotely has a chance to again report to Port Charlotte, Florida on February16, 2011. Many times during the Rays 2010 season, with his impending Free Agency on the horizon, Pena spoke loud and clear of his want to stay with the Rays.
But it might come at a huge price. Pena is a sought after Free Agent that will have more than a few teams digging into his 2007-2010 Rays stats and videos to see if he can again raise that same level of magic both on and off the field with their teams. And with an vocal agent like Scott Boras, you can easily define that even attempting to facilitate Pena’s services for 2011 will come with a very stiff price tag.
Pena commanded the Rays top salary last season at $ 10.5 million salary and could command a increase in salary this Winter for the 2011 season. By itself, his possible salary level might sink his ultimate chances to reunite with his Rays teammates this Spring. It is curious as to why a player like Pena who can demand up to $ 10 million again for 2011 would be so publicly campaigning this past week in the local media to get another shot with the Rays when his salary might be unobtainable by the payroll stingy Rays?
Pena knows the fiscal limitations of the Rays for 2011. And even with the fact Pena was very vocal during 2010 of possibly giving the Rays organization a “home” discount to retain his services, can the price be whittled down to be considered by the Rays? But even if Pena was to lower his 2010 salary to around the $7 million mark, would it be a bargain for the Rays? That kind of salary might still be on the upper cusp of what could be affordable by the Rays, but is it too low for Pena to consider?
Not to mention that if you sliced Pena’s 2010 salary in half it would only reach the projected upcoming arbitration salary mark of Rays starter Matt Garza, who is projected to gain a projected $ 5.25 million salary this Winter. Can you justify a larger salary amount closer to that $ 7 million mark being considered by the Rays and by Pena based on Pena’s long and devoted community service history and popularity with the Rays Republic.
Can you put a viable salary price on Pena’s unique personal charm and his grace both in public and with the media in showcasing himself as a role model and devoted member of this Tampa Bay community. Personally I think Pena has done more for the image of this Rays team and franchise than anyone else in the team’s short history, but can you put a price on that spirit and chemistry? Tampa Bay is the second largest Hispanic community in Florida and would retaining a popular icon like Pena be applauded by that community with increased ticket and merchandise revenues?
Retaining someone of Pena’s stature in the community will be difficult, but can be achieved with the many young and talented players coming up through the Rays farm system. But can any of them command the respect and admiration of Pena with his poetic gestures to the Rays fans during the season, or his mystic that makes him loved by men and women alike in this community. I am not going to debate the trials and tribulation of his offensive makes on the Rays, but salute the drive and determination Pena has instilled upon the Rays fabric. You can sit here and debate his offensive and defensive skills for days and still not have a clear indication of his entire net worth to this Rays franchise without looking at his voice off the field.
Some players make vocal signals to the team’s fans as a gesture of saying “Goodbye” knowing that their future with the franchise is not in their hands. In this endeavor with Pena, it might be his willingness to accept less in salary to stay with a team he respects and admires above all others. The bonds of Pena within the Rays is deep and rooted, but it is his turn to show his willingness to want to stay here. A possible low salary with offensive incentives might be the key to enticing the Rays to continue their ongoing relationship with Pena.
Right now I can not truly imagine a Spring without the likes of Pena strolling the sidelines or laughing in the dugout with his Rays teammates. I always thought he was more retainable this off season than outfielder Carl Crawford or even reliever Joaquin Benoit. For some reason, Pena has personified the Rays player for me since the first time I saw him on the fence line during the 2008 Spring Training signing a taco and then watching a fan eat it as a good luck omen.