Hendry Lauds Pena Signing

A slow-developing offseason for the Cubs finally gained some steam at the winter meetings with the signing of free agent first baseman Carlos Pena to a one-year, $10 million contract.

Pena had a down year with Tampa Bay in 2010, but the Cubs like his history of hitting for power and the fact that he bats left-handed. Although Pena batted only .196 this season, he hit 28 home runs after hitting 39, 31 and 46 in each of the previous three seasons.

"We've lacked that," Hendry said of a left-handed power bat. "We've been looking for that kind of power for a while. Plus he has the combination of outstanding defense and is a terrific guy character-wise. We thought it was a real good fit and hope it works at the level we expect it to. There's a history of people like this that go somewhere for a year and then maximize."

After a left-handed hitting first baseman, a starting pitcher and bullpen help were the other top items on Hendry's agenda.

He said he has explored both the trade and free agent markets for pitching help. Rumors circulated during the winter meetings that the Cubs were talking with Tampa Bay about pitcher Matt Garza. The Cubs do indeed have interest, according to team sources, but the likelihood of making a match has been questionable, even if the Rays are shopping Garza.

Hendry is working with a tight budget, and he was able to defer half of Pena's salary into the early part of 2012. The Cubs say they feel good about their minor league system, and they'll no doubt have to tap into it to obtain any pitchers via trades.

As far as Pena goes, manager Mike Quade says he's a "middle-of-the-lineup guy," and where he bats will be determined in spring training. The Cubs also believe his solid defense at first base will be helpful on throws from third baseman Aramis Ramirez and shortstop Starlin Castro.


--Pena says he's over the plantar fascia problem that bothered him for much of the 2010 season.

"It hurt," he said. "But I'm past that now. I don't like making excuses for what happened. At the very least, I kind of embrace those type of obstacles, the difficulties, and actually give thanks for them. It makes us stronger. Instead of me dwelling on the fact that last year was not up to par, up to my standards, regardless of the home runs, regardless of the RBIs, obviously, I wish I would have done better."

--OF Tyler Colvin is in Arizona working at a conditioning camp with several players, many of them minor-leaguers. Big-league pitchers Ryan Dempster and Jeff Samardzija also are at the camp. Colvin is getting back in shape after suffering a collapsed lung in September, when he was hit by a piece of a broken bat.

"They're doing really well," said farm director Oneri Fleita. "It's called Camp Colvin. I asked Tyler if it was OK to name it after him. I thought anybody who could who can go and work out like he did last year and put on 25 great pounds and improve his flexibility and running speed ... he looked great, as we all know."

--Samardzija will be an interesting project for new pitching coach Mark Riggins. Riggins was the Cubs' minor league pitching coordinator the last three years, and Samardzija went 11-3 at Class AAA (Des Moines) Iowa this season after being sent there in April.

"He requires confidence," Riggins said at the winter meetings. "He requires a lot of work to stay in his form. I only went in there (to Iowa) once every 6-7 weeks to see him. I talked with him on the phone, trying to build confidence in him. I think there's a lot of talent there, and I think he's got a lot of things to look forward to."

--LHP Sean Marshall has said he wouldn't mind competing for a starting job again, but the Cubs have no plans to take him out of his eighth-inning setup role, Hendry said during the winter meetings. Marshall teamed with closer Carlos Marmol to give the Cubs a solid 1-2 late inning combo. Both pitchers are second-year arbitration-eligibles.

--SS Starlin Castro has begun playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic. He was 6-for-30 in his first eight games. Fleita said the Cubs don't mind Castro playing the rest of the winter season and even getting playoff experience. Manager Mike Quade said he wanted Castro to concentrate on defense this winter after he made 27 errors in his rookie season.

BY THE NUMBERS: 36 -- Pena's average home runs per season the last four years for Tampa Bay. He also averaged 102 RBI.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's not a gamble. It's a real good fit." -- Hendry on signing Pena to a one-year, $10 million deal after Pena batted .196 for Tampa Bay in 2010.

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