The Amazing Potential Return of Wily Mo Pena
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. If that's true, we're about to develop some serious fondness for Wily Mo Pena.
The Cleveland Indians have signed the slugging outfielder to a one-year deal that will be worth $700,000 if he makes the big club. And if he does, it would be the first time Pena has appeared in a big-league game stateside in five long years.
Pena last played in the MLB in 2011, when he totaled 120 plate appearances for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Seattle Mariners. He batted .204/.250/.416 with seven home runs that season, striking out a whopping 32.5% of the time and walking in just 4.2% of his plate appearances. He had spent three years in Triple-A the three seasons before that, with his best MLB season coming in 2004 -- when he hit .259/.316/.527 with 26 homers and an fWAR of 1.9 for the Cincinnati Reds in 2004.
For his career, Pena is a .250/.303/.445 hitter with 84 dingers in 599 games. He has struck out in 30.3% of his career plate appearances and walked in a mere 6.0% of them.
He simply has never been a terribly good player, but he has had his moments in the big leagues.
Since failing to hook on with another MLB team after the 2011 season, Pena has played in Japan for the last five years. Two years ago he hit .255/.344/.486 with 32 jacks and an OPS of .830 in 140 games, and last season he had an OPS of .845 with 17 bombs and 20 doubles in 125 games.
He has been a prolific dinger machine over there, routinely putting on ridiculous displays of power, such as this blast 492-foot blast off the roof of the Osaka Dome back in 2014.
And while he did walk a bit more during his time in Japan, he also continued to pile up the strikeouts.
The bottom line is, Wily Mo is likely no different now than when he was struggling to cobble together a productive season as a 29-year-old five years ago. But he sure is one of the most fun, non-good players to watch in all of baseball.
So, what's going on here? Are the Indians desperate? Are they simply taking a flier on a guy who still might have some occasional pop in his bat but not much else? Or do they just love fun as much as you and me?
Whatever the reason, it would be a terrific, feel-good story if Pena somehow managed to catch fire in spring training and snag a spot on the defending American League champs' 25-man roster. And hey, baseball has become a game that is dominated by dingers, strikeouts and walks anyway, so Wily Mo should fit right in.
In a winter in which not many interesting things have taken place, the possible return of Wily Mo Pena would be a nice addition to the off-season storyline.