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06/25/2014

Carlos Pena & one of the worst trades in Rangers' history

ARLINGTON, Texas - The former prize of the Texas Rangers farm system is a Ranger again - Carlos Pena was recalled from the minors to become the 74th* player to try to play first base for the team this season. The way the other 73 first basemen have fared so far this season, Pena should be on the DL no later than Friday.

PenaHe made it out alive in his Rangers 2014 debut on Tuesday night against the Tigers. He was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.

This is the player who in the early spring of 2002 once told me: "In my mind,  I think I am good enough to make the Hall of Fame. I'm sorry, and I'm not trying to be cocky,  but that's just the way I feel. I always want that attitude inside of me. I don't ever want to doubt me."

He won't make the HOF, but he has been in the bigs since ’02, made roughly $50 million, and eventually made the Rangers looked so steeeewwwpid for dealing him.

The Rangers, who signed the veteran Pena to a minor league deal on June 17, promoted their former top prospect from ‘01 because they need able bodies to play first. His "promotion" means his career has come full circle, back to the team that made him the 10th overall pick in the '98 draft.

This is a wonderful chance to re-visit one of the least good trades the Rangers ever made under GM John Hart. It’s a deal he completely and totally threw his assistant GM under the bus.

You are too young to remember, but it was a big deal when on Jan. 14, 2002 Pena was deal to the Oakland A's with reliever Mike Venafro for first baseman Jason Hart, catcher Gerald Laird, outfielder Ryan Ludwick and pitcher Mario Ramos.

The Rangers needed pitching, and they didn’t want to alienate their first baseman, Rafael Palmeiro, any more by grooming Pena to take his job. So what better way to make Palmeiro, who never received the ink as the prima donna he could be, happy than by trading Pena?

MJm6TUvXfahcGVscihiG0OgRamos was the prize of the deal. He was rated as the A’s top pitching prospect, but despite his being left-handed he never made it.

In 2003, Ramos was 1-1 in three starts for the Rangers with a 6.23 ERA. Those three starts are all of Ramos' career big league stats. Ramos bounced around several organizations before retiring in 2007, when he was 29.

The A’s acquired Pena to replace Jason Giambi, but he never made it in Oakland. In the “Moneyball” season, GM Billy Beane dealt Pena to the Tigers just five months after he was acquired.

The man who orchestrated this deal – Rangers assistant GM Grady Fuson, who had just come over from the A’s – raved about Ramos, and regarded Laird as the biggest project of the group. Of the players the Rangers acquired in the deal, Laird had the best career with the team. Laird spent six seasons with the
Rangers, and is currently playing for the Braves – his 12th big league year.

Ludwick played 31 games before the Rangers before bouncing around, including one All-Star year with the St. Louis Cardinals. He is currently with the Reds, in his 12th major league season.

John Hart once said of this trade – “Hey, that’s Grady’s deal.”

Pena made his big league debut when he was 23. Today, he is 36.

He has 285 career home runs, was an All-Star in ’09, played in one World Series, had three consecutive 100-RBI seasons with Tampa Bay, led the AL in home runs in 2009, and was the ’07 AL Comeback Player of the Year.

The only knock on him was his swing – it was long and could be a bit slow. He is a career .233 hitter.

But Pena has made it 13 years in the bigs, is one hell of a lot better than Mario Ramos, and now he’s back “home”.

@MacEngelProf
tengel@star-telegram.com
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