The Houston Astros have signed the first designated hitter in franchise history, as they prepare to move into the American League West beginning the 2013 MLB season. Carlos Pena has signed with the Astros for a one year contract worth up to $4.3 million, provided he can reach his incentives. Pena is expected to see much of his time as designated hitter, although he will still see some time at first base, as the Astros may also do the same with Brett Wallace.
Pena still has some pop to his bat, but his batting average often makes him a liability in any lineup. His 19 home runs were just fine in 2012 as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, but his .197 batting average is just a killer in terms of getting things going during a rally or to keep an inning alive.
Still, Pena has averaged 32 home runs over his past six seasons, which included five with the Rays and one with the Chicago Cubs in 2011. That may have made more of a difference if the Astros were still in the National League Central, but Pena will have to get used to facing a new division rich in pitching.
Over the past couple of seasons, Pen’a power numbers, walks and batting average have decreased, while his strikeout totals have increased. He is clearly entering the twilight of his career, but can still fit into a lineup such as Houston’s in 2013.
That does mean, however, that Lance Berkman is unlikely to return to the big leagues for another season. He had openly expressed an interest to return to the Astros, but only if the price was right. It sounded as if berkman still felt as if he was worth much more than a player with declining skills should be paid, so a deal was not likely to be worked out between the two.
Houston had also kicked the tires on Travis Hafner, but opted to go with Pena. The one thing you can say in favor of Pena compared to Berkman or Hafner is that at least you can count on him to remain an active part of your lineup. Pena has not played in fewer than 135 games since the 2006 season. He has topped 144 games in four of his past six seasons.
For a team such as the Astros, they will need all hands on deck, especially in a suddenly loaded A.L. West.
Then again, this team couldn’t even compete in the N.L. Central, so it is going to be a long year.
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