While St. Louis Cardinals fans wait to see if General Manager has a big move or two up his sleeve, he pulled off a solid upgrade under the radar.
The Redbirds on Monday announced that they have signed popular and useful catcher Brayan Pena away from the Cincinnati Reds.
Pena, 33, has averaged 370 plate appearances a season over the past two years with Cincinnati, batting .263 over that span. He led National League backstops with a .999 fielding percentage last season and he’s known as a well-liked teammate.
It’s obvious that the Cardinals need a backup catcher to provide more innings that in previous years as starter Yadier Molina moves into his mid 30s and has suffered through a series of nagging injuries over the past few years.
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But, while the signing of the switch-hitter Pena represents an offensive upgrade over Tony Cruz, the change in players isn’t going to change the fact that Molina can’t stand to sit out.
I see friction in the future as the Cardinals try to force Molina to play less in effort to extend his career and keep him fresh late in the season.
It’s tough to keep a player’s offense sharp if he doesn’t collect a reasonable number of at-bats a week. So, unless manager Mike Matheny finds a way to convince Molina to sit, he’s going to have to get creative with the playing time.
It’s difficult to sub out your starting catcher if you have only one backup backstop on the roster. If the starter is out and the backup gets injured, you’re stuck. So I imagine either Pena or Molina will end up spending some time at first base to keep them both in the game.
Pena has played 62 games at first base over his career. Molina has played a handful of games there. But it’s good compromise to let him get from behind the plate once in a while. You don’t get hit in the face and legs with foul balls at first base and there’s less wear and tear on scorching summer days not to have to wear all that protective gear required by catching.