Royals pick up Pena Jr. from Braves
KC lands ex-skipper's son, who could bolster shortstop spot
PHOENIX -- The Royals had Tony Pena in the dugout. Now they'll have Tony Pena Jr. at shortstop.The Royals acquired Pena Jr., the son of the former Kansas City manager, on Friday in a trade with the Braves. The Royals sent Minor League right-hander Erik Cordier, a 2004 second-round pick who had Tommy John surgery last year, to Atlanta. Although Pena Jr. has played only 40 games in the Majors, general manager Dayton Moore said he is ready to be an everyday Major League shortstop. "We believe so, without a doubt," Moore said. "We thought so last year, but he was stuck behind [Edgar] Renteria." Moore, who spent several years in the Braves' front office and knows Pena Jr. well, had Muzzy Jackson and Rene Francisco from the front office and other scouts follow Pena in March. "We've seen him several times and they are raving about his play," Moore said. "He is having an exceptional spring. He's a very instinctive, heady player. He's very sure-handed and a rangy-type shortstop. He can really play shortstop. He's very charismatic and humble. The fans in Kansas City are going to love him." While it appears Pena will be the starting shortstop, neither Moore nor manager Buddy Bell wanted to make that official on Friday. "We feel obviously the acquisition of Tony Pena Jr. strengthens our shortstop position," Moore said. "He's on our club, which naturally brings up, what do we do with the other shortstop? We're going to evaluate it the final 10 days of Spring Training." Moore pointed out that Angel Berroa and Andres Blanco, a young infielder in camp, have Minor League options left, while veteran Alex Gonzalez, who is camp as a non-roster invitee, has an out in his contract where he could become a free agent next week if he doesn't make the Kansas City roster. If Berroa, whom the Royals owe $8.5 million over the next two years, should refuse an option to the Minors, he would forfeit his contract. "We're happy to have Pena," Bell said. "But as far as who starts Opening Day, I haven't got that far yet. We've talked at length about it. I want to see him play quite a bit. "The only downside to this thing is we have only 10 more days until we open up. We have to make a decision very quick. I think we'll sleep on it for a night. I have an idea what we're going to do. I'm not just ready to talk about it yet." Bell acknowledged Pena Jr. "absolutely" is a candidate to start.
"Our first priority at shortstop is to have somebody consistently catch the ball and have above-average range," Bell said. "That's the No. 1 thing we're looking at."Pena Jr., who turned 26 on Friday, was hitting .342 this spring, including a three-run homer on Thursday against the Mets. He also had one double, one triple and six RBIs. Pena was out of options with the Braves. "We heard he's having a very good spring and is catching the ball really well," Bell said. "From what I understand, his swing gets a little long at times." Pena said, "it's sad in a way" to be leaving the Braves, but he welcomes the opportunity the Royals offer. "I'm happy to get a chance to play somewhere," he said. "[Moore] saw me grow up as a player and a man. Right now, I'm just speechless. This is all just hitting me quick." Pena committed just 14 errors in 121 games last season, including just one in 43 total chances with Atlanta. "We had a good chance to get a good young fielding shortstop, and anytime you can do that, I think you do it, regardless of the situation you're in," Bell said. "It just so happens there is some competition at shortstop and he becomes a part of that right now." Pena hit .227 in 40 games and 44 at-bats last year with the Braves. He hit .282 last season with Richmond, the Braves' Triple-A affiliate. "He's got better every year offensively," Moore said. With the steady decline of Berroa, who has been their starting shortstop since winning the 2003 American League Rookie of the Year Award, the Royals had been searching for a shortstop. Francisco, a special assistant to the general manager/international operations, said Pena is ready to play every day in the Majors defensively. "He's an above-average Major League defender fielding and throwing," said Francisco, who was in the Braves' organization from 1993-2006. "Defense is what got him to the big leagues. "He's improved every year [offensively]. He's improved a lot in that sense. Always the concern is the bat. Every scout or person I talked to when I was with the Braves was whether he was going to hit enough or not." Pena has a .252 batting average in 714 games in the Minors. Pena's father managed the Royals for parts of four seasons from 2002-05, and he is currently a coach with the Yankees. "He's a kid that started playing organized baseball late," Francisco said. "He started playing organized baseball when he signed [in 1999]. All he did in the past was just work out with his dad. He's a baseball rat. He's a tremendous kid. I've known TJ for a long, long time, since the year before he signed with the Braves." Berroa hit .287 with 17 home runs, 73 RBIs, 92 runs and 23 stolen bases as a rookie, but his batting average declined every year. Last year he hit just .234 with 28 extra-base hits and three steals. He walked just 14 times and his .259 on-base percentage was the lowest among regulars in the American League.
Alan Eskew is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.