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Wily Mo Pena has a home again

Wednesday’s Say Hey, Baseball includes Wily Mo Pena back in MLB, the value of the Cardinals’ punishment, and more.

Boston Red Sox v Seattle Mariners Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

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It’s February, which means we’re late enough into the offseason that the free agent signings start to get a little weird— the leftovers, the attempted comebacks, the "who? him?" deals. And the Cleveland Indians have kicked us off with a name that’s perfect here: Wily Mo Pena. The team has signed the erstwhile slugger to a minor-league deal worth $700,000 if he makes it to the majors, a full five years after his last appearance in MLB. He’s been playing in Japan since struggling to make things work in his last stateside stint with the Seattle Mariners in 2011, and he’s put together the same sort of reel there that he did back in MLB: His fair share of home runs, plenty of strikeouts, and not much else.

It's not Pena's potential impact on the big-league club that makes his story interesting; effectively, he has none. (Though if he proves us wrong on this, he wouldn't be the first—he's spent nearly as much time away from the majors as Ryan Vogelsong did before coming back from Japan to achieve moderate success with the San Francisco Giants beginning in 2011.) But he does have the sort of weird arc that feels interesting at this point in February, when so little feels interesting. It's one thing to mount a comeback in the majors with a hitting showcase or claims of how you've changed your swing; by all accounts so far, Pena is coming back simply as the same guy he always was, only older. A few months before he found himself out of the majors, Pena claimed he was getting better with age: "I think this is my best year," he told the Seattle Times in August 2011. "I said to myself, it’s like wine, when they’re old, they taste better. I’m getting old, and I think I’ve learned how to hit." He ended up hitting .204/.250/.416 that year, and he's been playing in Japan ever since. It's not much to indicate taking a chance on — but, hey, it's February, why not?