As January comes to a close, let's review what Jim Hendry did to change the pace a little bit this past month, during what Yarbage both recently and appropriately referred to "the slowest few weeks for a baseball fan." We now know that Todd Wellemeyer, Braden Looper, Reed Johnson and Augie Ojeda will be warming up in Mesa in a couple of months, as each signed a minor deal with the team over the past few weeks.
Now, the question is: will any of the four contribute to the major league club in 2011? Is it even possible?
Of course there's a chance that one of these guys rediscovers some of their old magic this year. And over the next few days, I'll make my pick for the most likely to do so. To inform that decision, I'll start by looking at a pair of current players that are now slated to start in the 2011 Cub line-up, but were in the same predicament as those other four players just a few years ago.
The first guy to look at is the most recent addition to the Cubs' starting line-up: Carlos Pena.
Pena was drafted 10th overall in 1998 by the Texas Rangers. Fun fact: in 2002, he was sent to Detroit as part of a deal that netted the Oakland Athletics the world's meanest bulldog of a lefty, Ted Lilly. (He WILL knock your catcher OUT on his way home from third!) The Tigers kept Pena through his cost-controlled years, but released him in March 2006 after a poor showing in Spring Training despite the fact that he averaged 22 home runs between 2002 and 2005.
(Wait. What? Wow. I guess his batting average was never any good, but still!)
After being cut in '06, Pena would sign minor league deals with the Yankees and Red Sox, but couldn't manage to find a spot on the roster for either team. Then in 2007, Pena would sign yet another minor league deal, this time with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. That year, he went on to hit 46 home runs with a .282 average, a .411 on-base percentage, and even a stolen base.
A real "home run" of a signing, you might say. (Thank you, thank you, I came up with that one myself!)
So how does Pena inform the conversation about potentially impactful minor league free agents? He's a former first round pick; might be considered a sort of one-dimensional player; and had a huge breakout at age 29.
Tomorrow, we'll look at the other former minor league free agent in the Cubs' starting line-up.