MLB Trade Rumors: Should the Yankees pick up the recently-cut Carlos Pena?

USA TODAY Sports

Is a minor improvement even worth it?

The Yankees currently have no first basemen on their depth chart behind Lyle Overbay, a fact that is quite appalling. The first base trade market is not looking great, but according to MLB Pipeline, one name just became a mostly-free option:

I briefly profiled Pena in a post shortly after the Yankees lost Mark Teixeira for the season, when I examined some possible external options for first base. I've edited it a little to adjust for stat changes since June 26.

Pena still hits for low average and whiffs like a bandit, but he draws plenty of walks and has lefty power. The 35-year-old Pena's defense has never been a problem, and after struggling against lefties for the past few years, he has turned it around and now has a weird reverse-split like Brennan Boesch. This year, Pena has hit .231/.355/.481 with a 133 wRC+ against lefties and .204/.317/.320 with a 77 wRC+ against righties. Those numbers represent the best platoon split out of this quartet, and his statistics against righties probably won't stay around that level given his career trends. Of course, that also means his numbers against lefties will regress since it's likely just small sample size noise in 62 plate appearances, but the fact that he doesn't appear helpless offers some hope anyway.

The Astros are only paying Pena $2.9 million this year, and since they are in complete scorch-the-earth mode, they will almost certainly deal him away for prospects at the trade deadline. Unlike Morneau, Pena offers consistency and decent assurance that he will stay on the field, as he has never missed much playing time due to injury. However, since the Astros are rebuilding, don't really need salary relief, and are hoping to add decent prospects to their future squads, they might ask for more than the White Sox or Twins would for their first basemen. Brian Cashman will have to carefully evaluate which, if any, prospects he would be willing to deal for a rental.

The last couple sentences no longer apply to the situation. The Astros are cutting ties with Pena, so they have 10 days to either trade or release him. Since they no longer have any real leverage for prospects, should the Yankees try to pick him up on the cheap with their first base situation as dire as it is?

Overall, Pena is hitting .209/.324/.350 on the season with an 88 wRC+ and -0.4 fWAR/-0.5 rWAR. (Yes, the Yankees have fallen so far that we can discuss sub-replacement level players as legitimate options. Yikes.) The immediate reaction is "Stay away from the scary strikeout man, Mr. Cashman," but considering the filth on the Yankees' roster right now, it might not be the worst idea to try Pena, if not only to actually give Overbay a backup. Overbay has only missed nine games this year, and he's on pace to play his most games in a season since 2010. Last night's disastrous game notwithstanding, he is hitting .253/.307/.440 with a 102 wRC+ and 0.6 fWAR & rWAR on the season. He's probably playing over his head since he hasn't approached those levels for a full season in three years, and wearing him down is likely just going to make him worse. Acquiring Pena could help give him a breather.

Another factor in the decision on Pena is Mr. Travis Hafner, the designated hitter who can't hit. Since his sensational April, Pronk has come crashing down to Earth at a pace that would make Phaëton jealous with startlingly bad numbers: .174/.255/.299 and just 11 extra-base hits. The logic behind the Hafner signing was that if he could somehow stay healthy, he could certainly at least come close to replicating his numbers while healthy in the past four years (.268/.361/.453, 125 OPS+). No one thought that his 1.104 OPS in April was sustainable, but his precipitous fall to a 92 wRC+ on the season has called his role on the team into question. If he is incapable of playing the field, then what does he add to this team if he can't hit anymore? It is unclear if he can break out of his nearly-three month slumber, and with the opportunity to add at least a comparable bat who can play the field, perhaps it is time to bring the Pronk era to a close.

Even if Pena can only put up the numbers Pronk has posted since the beginning of May, he would at least be able to play the field and give Overbay some days off. If the Astros will just accept cash or a nothing prospect in return, maybe the Yankees should try to make the minor improvement. It is unlikely to make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things, but if it can help a little, then why not take a flyer?

Or just sign Quills, as Matt Ferenchick suggests.

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