Friday, September 21, 2007

In Cruel Irony, Tigers Could Use Pena Right About Now

The Tigers have a few needs heading into the 2008 season, and one of them ought to be a lefthanded-hitting bat with some pop. Pop, not popgun. They have plenty of the latter. Sean Casey, with his measly three home runs. Mike Rabelo, with his zero dingers when he bats from the left side. He doesn't have any the other way, either. Only Curtis Granderson and Carlos Guillen (against righties) are threats to park the ball into the seats from the left side of the plate. And neither of them would I consider power hitters, per se. Even not per se.

It seems that the lefty power bat that they could have used has decided to realize his potential a few years and two teams too late.

Carlos Pena, playing first base in near total anonymity for the annually wretched Tampa Bay Devil Rays, hit his 40th home run recently. That's 40th -- as in one season, not for his career.

Pena watching another one fly out of the park, no doubt

I cannot lambast Tigers management on this one. I said my share of "good riddances" when the Tigers lopped Pena from the roster late in spring training in 2006. I, like them, grew tired of waiting for the talented but mega-frustrating Pena to put it all together. And his strikeouts were creating more wind than Lake Michigan in a Chicago winter.

He skidaddled off to Boston, played unremarkably, and landed in Devil Rays camp this spring, looking for a job. Many thought this would be his last chance to prove that he's a major league hitter in anything more than just theory.

Well, Pena has put it all together, alright. And not just in theory. Oh, he still strikes out more than a geeky, pimply kid at a school dance, but you can maybe live with those Ks if they're part and parcel of a 40-home run season. He has had some monster games for the Rays, but like I said, their games are like trees that fall in vacant woods; do they make a sound?

Pena, for sure, is doing his best to make noise. He finally, at age 29 and with his fifth big league team, seems to be shedding the word "potential" from his bio.

And, in cruel irony for the Tigers, he appears to be just what the team needs right now.

He was always a fine fielder. That hasn't changed. But how nice would Pena and his 40 homers from the left side look in Detroit right about now?

It's all a matter of timing. The Tigers didn't get it right, as it turned out, and Pena has, by hooking up with the talent-starved Devil Rays and resurrecting his career.

When is he a free agent?


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