Pena returns to the Cardinals to support Molina, but there is a problem | Derrick Goold: Bird Land


JUPITER, Fla. • Getting rid of his alignment to give way to a perspective that the cardinals wanted to protect, Francisco Pena was found that winter where he had started, that is, looking for something to do. a job where he might not start at all.

Yadier Molina's replacement this past season and the receiver who beat Carson Kelly for the role last year, Pena became a free agent in November when the Cardinals removed him from the list of 40 players. At the time, the team's plan was to turn Kelly's promising replacement role into a substitute, and to try to find starting points for him at the receiver when possible, realizing that they could be minimal.

Pena was left to do what few Molina backups have.

"It did not bother me at all," Pena said last week. "This is the way the game unfolds today. I understand that this is a business. I come from a baseball family. I understand they removed me from training last year because they needed places for young boys and I have seen everything. I know how it is. I do not get angry. I do not let that touch me. I just work harder and harder and see where it will take me. "

This brought him back to the Cardinals. Pena presented several other team offers – all minor league offers – but he waited until it became clear that the Cardinals could exchange Kelly. When they did, Paul Goldschmidt was part of the package sent to Arizona for Pena to seek a chance to return to the Cardinals, to return to the role that he had and that few seemed to want and to return to work with Molina. He received an offer from the Cardinals, but no promise.

Goldschmidt took Pena's number 46 in the meantime, so he went to number 47.

The Cardinals want Pena to be the replacement and the manager, Mike Shildt, has spoken openly about Pena's advantage over his outgoing president.

"Frankie knows how we do our business," said Shildt. "He's back and he's respected and he understands. He knows the matter and our players. Intelligent and studying and is intentional at all levels. I think Frankie feels good about his luck here. He clearly has a great chance to make the club. He is well placed. "

He is not alone, however. What he managed to do by going up the depth chart last spring, he attracted sensors to do the same this spring. With Yadier Molina recovering from the knee and unlikely to play in the first two weeks of the grapefruit league matches, Pena and the other priority players will have many runs in their hands. Andrew Knizner takes Kelly's place as the Cardinals' best prospect, and Knizner is considered one of the best hopes of baseball. He will have time in games with Major League staff to improve, because during the season he will be the AAA Memphis class starter.

This saves him from having to take on the tasks that fall to him in the major leagues, possibly as a receiver every day if he shows a defensive improvement.

The Cardinals added depth around him and Pena – mainly Joe Hudson.

Hudson, 27, played eight games in the majors last season in the form of a playoff round in September. He had been part of the Reds organization before the angels sent money to Cincinnati for Hudson. In 26 games for the Angels Triple-A affiliate, Hudson was up 0.31 / 0.380 / 0.478 and 0.293 / 0.369 / 0.437 overall in the AA and AAA classes last season. As the Cardinals start the games this weekend, watching the play time and assignments behind the plate will reveal an informal depth chart – and a Cardinals Rating Index. It was a year ago, during the Pomelos League games, that a move to Pena revealed that he had overtaken Kelly for the substitute position, and less than 24 hours later Kelly was chosen to the camp of the minor leagues.

Pena, 29, played 58 games with the Cardinals last season and has started 30 games compared to 11 at Kelly's major league level. During a 59-game stretch that included a month-long absence from Molina to recover from a traumatic injury near the groin, Pena started 31 games and knocked. 205 / .230 / .301 with two circuits and seven points produced. The Cardinals went 16-15 in these games, and Pena was well received by pitchers for his throwing work. It is this stability that makes him suitable for the relief because he can travel long distances without playing while keeping in touch with the starters and the defensive clarity required for the job.

Pena insisted that the Cardinals' offer contained no guarantee, or even implicit, that he would be backing Molina for a second year in a row. This is hard work for the Cardinals to sell because few fishermen see it as a growth position. It is difficult to seduce this next offer with so little play time.

"I also had other opportunities, but I really felt comfortable coming here," said Pena. "I hope to stay here for many years. I do not think it will affect me at all if (I do not). I was the replacement of Yadier Molina, one of the best salvors of the majors. I think that will help a lot on any resume.

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