Going into free agency this past year, the writing on the wall said that the Cubs wouldn’t be making a huge splash because of the team’s already bloated payroll.

The writing couldn’t have been any clearer; the Cubs major free agent acquisition was first baseman Carlos Pena. The Cubs signed Pena to a $10 million, one year contract. The contract was structured so Pena would receive $5 million in 2011 and another $5 million in 2012, which would count against the 2011 payroll.

I have to admit that I didn’t pay much attention to the Tampa Bay Rays last year, where Pena previously played. Don’t ask me why, I’m usually pretty good about keeping up with all teams in Major League Baseball but for whatever reason I just wasn’t partial to the Sunshine State in 2010.

So when I heard that Pena batted .196 in 2010, I instantly figured that Pena had an injury riddled season and didn’t get many at-bats. My jaw hit the floor when I found out that he played in 144 games and had 400 plus at-bats.

Did the Cubs seriously just give $10 million dollars to a guy that hit .196 in 144 games? That was the question I asked myself. Needless to say, I didn’t have high hopes for Pena going into this season and, so far, I’m glad I’ve stuck to my guns on that thought.

Thus far in 2011, Pena has 5 hits in 27 at-bats, 4 RBIs and a .185 batting average. I’m well aware that it’s only April and I’m also aware that Pena has been battling a sore thumb since opening day. But after the kind of season he had last year, those things don’t cause me to worry any less.

I would have much rather seen that $10 million spent on another starting pitcher or a bullpen arm. The Cubs then could have continued Tyler Colvin’s development into a first baseman. Colvin is also struggling at the moment but if he was a full time starter, he’d have more opportunities to work himself out of hitting slumps. There just isn’t any room on the field for him to play on a consistent basis.

Though, no matter how uneasy I feel about Pena, there’s no way to get around the fact that it is still early in the season. Pena has more than enough opportunities to start hitting, especially in a hitter friendly ballpark like Wrigley Field. Another aspect to be optimistic about is that it’s only a one year contract and if he continues to struggle like this all season, he’ll most certainly be gone after 2011.

We’ll just have to wait and see how everything plays out. However, as the season moves forward, something tells me I’m going to be longing for the past years of Derrek Lee’s heyday.

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