Defensive lapses turn Yanks' eyes toward Pena
BY JON HEYMAN
Newsday Staff Writer
April 14, 2006
With defensive flaws exposed at the start of their season and alternatives being weighed to shore things up, the Yankees have entered into serious discussions with former Tigers first baseman Carlos Pena.
The Red Sox, Dodgers and Chiba Lotte Marines also have shown interest in Pena, but baseball officials indicate the Yankees may be Pena's most likely destination.
Bobby Valentine's Marines have considered Pena, but the Yankees may be too great a lure for the lefthanded-hitting Pena, who's spent most of his brief career with the losing Tigers.
While Pena was an inconsistent hitter with the Tigers, he is considered adept defensively, which is what piques the Yankees' interest. It has quickly become apparent that defense is an area of worry on their $200-million team.
The Yankees made no serious move to sign Pena in the first days after he was released March 26 by the Tigers. However, according to people with knowledge of the situation, manager Joe Torre has become increasingly concerned about defensive liabilities and now favors signing Pena.
It isn't known whether Pena would receive a major-league or minor-league deal, but he likely would have to begin a Yankees' tenure in the minors since he hasn't played since his release 2 1/2 weeks ago. The Tigers paid him $688,525 in termination pay on a one-year, $2.8-million contract.
If he signs with the Yankees, Pena would likely be used primarily as a defensive replacement at first base and perhaps an occasional starter. His presence would mean less time at first base for Jason Giambi, who has looked sluggish in the field. Giambi, though, has pointed out that he hits better when he plays the field; last year, he batted .319 when playing first base, .209 while DH.
It isn't yet clear how much playing time Pena would get with the Yankees, but his signing could impact a couple players even beyond Giambi. Presumably, Bernie Williams could lose some time at DH if Giambi assumes that role, and Andy Phillips' chances to gain playing time could be further hindered.
One American League GM said that Pena is "very athletic and very good defensively." He committed 13 errors in 2003 but only six in '04 and three in 51 games last year, but the GM attributed the high error total in 2003 to his athleticism.
It was Pena's offensive woes that led to his demise in Detroit. Pena hit 27 home runs in 2004 but has been plagued by wildly inconsistent offensive production. He is a career .243 hitter.
Pena batted .235 last year with 18 home runs and 44 RBIs. He was demoted last May when hitting just .181 after a particularly brutal series at Yankee Stadium, but batted .311 for Toledo, then .286 with 15 home runs in his last 38 games in Detroit.
Pena struggled this spring, batting .160 with one home run in 50 at-bats, and it was clear that new Tigers manager Jim Leyland intended to use Chris Shelton at first base, leading to Pena's release.
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