Pena Signing Won't Ease Fans Pain

added 12/17/2012 by Bob Hulsey

Stop the presses!

Someone over at the Astros spent money, which happens as often as an honest election in Venezuela. Back when Jim Crane was selling his fellow owners on the added expense of a designated hitter he would endure if he was forced to switch leagues, Crane was telling the media it would add an extra $8-$10 million per year to his payroll and he wanted a rebate on the sale price to offset the expense.

Now that he's actually signed one, the cost is less than half that. Carlos Pena was signed on Monday to a $2.9 million one-year contract that could rise in compensation to $4.3 million if Pena meets all the incentive targets.

If only Houston fans could demand a rebate.

The Astros added a lefthanded-hitting slugger who still has 20-homer potential despite keeping his neck barely above the Mendoza Line the past three seasons. With very little lineup support, it remains to be seen if Pena will be able to deliver what Houston might expect.

Ask the Cubs. Two years ago, the Northsiders inked Pena to a contract for almost $10 million to replace the traded Derrek Lee at first base. Pena fell into disfavor there after batting .159 in April before hitting his stride in May and June. Another long slump followed and he ended the season with a .225 average and 28 homers but disappointing compared to what fans expected.

Last year, at Tampa Bay, Pena batted .197 with 19 homers and a career-low .684 OPS. That's what you can buy now for $2.9 million.

I think every Jeff Luhnow press conference should now come with a laugh track like they used in all those 1960s sitcoms you find on Nick at Nite. Particularly when Luhnow says he wants to win now or even wants to be competitive, the room can be filled with canned laughter as we all snicker about the ludicrousness of his comments. It's like when the Red Sox say they want to be fiscally responsible while we all await the punchline.

While Pena is, by all accounts, a nice guy, this move isn't likely to entice fans back to the ballpark. Another 100-loss season appears likely, particularly as the American League is seemingly loading up on Astro-killers that bedeviled us in our National League days.

Not only could the Astros not escape Albert Pujols or Josh Hamilton in their new division, the A's added Chris Young, the Indians got Drew Stubbs and the Rays signed James Loney. Cecil Fielder is hanging out in Detroit and the Angels almost acquired Carlos Marmol. It would only be fitting if the Mariners traded for Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramriez while coaxing Jim Edmonds out of retirement.

If you are still an Astros fan, this offseason has been beyond depressing. The club's marketing department should consider having a Masochism Night where the first 10,000 attendees will receive a navy blue whip and a leather hood sponsored by Randall's or Rawling's or somebody. By midseason, anyone still caring about the Astros simply has a fetish for losing baseball.

They won't even have Jim Deshaies around to wisecrack the edge off of a bad season. Smell the glove.

With or without Carlos Pena, the 2013 Astros are a show that would be banned in Boston. But you can't say they didn't spend any money on the team, not while their .197-hitting slugger is in the middle of the lineup.