THE BACK STORY: The native of Cuba originally joined the Braves organization in 2001. By 2005 Pena had earned a spot in Atlanta, playing in 18 games in the majors that season but never more than 23 with the Braves before he was claimed off waivers by Kansas City in 2008. In 2009 he became the Royals back-up catcher, playing in a high of 72 games in 2011. Last season Pena played in 68 games with Kansas City and hit .236 with two homers and 25 RBIs.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE TIGERS: Pena presumably solves the question of who will back up Alex Avila in 2013. Pena, who will turn 31 in January, is a switch-hitter, so he gives the Tigers lefty-righty balance behind the plate. Defense has never been Pena's strength, though last season he threw out 23.5 percent of would-be base-stealers (16 of 58), which would have ranked among the top 10 catchers in the American League had he caught enough games. In 2011 he was even more impressive, throwing out 36 percent of would-be base-stealers (27 of 75), which would have been second-best in the AL had he played enough games. Pena had two errors and four passed balls in 2011 and last season committed four errors and allowed five passed balls in 52 games.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE MUD HENS: First, let's discuss the catching situation. In the past week the Mud Hens suddenly have become very deep behind home plate: With Pena presumably in Detroit, Bryan Holaday will likely be the lead catcher for the Hens. That's not a certainty, though, as Detroit traded for Ramon Cabrera from Pittsburgh in the Andy Oliver trade. Cabrera is young and also should get consistent playing time -- perhaps for Double-A Erie? Perhaps not, because one of the Tigers more highly regarded prospects is James McCann, who caught for the SeaWolves last season. The Tigers also signed veteran catcher Brad Davis, who spent the second half of last season in Toledo.
Let's not forget the other part of this move, which saw Hoffman designated for assignment. That means other major-league teams now have a chance to claim him off waivers if that team can add Hoffman to the 40-man roster. Last season Hoffman posted a 1-2 record and 3.69 ERA in 43 appearances for Toledo. But he showed marked improvement, especially with his control, after the All-Star Break. Before the break he had 10 walks, three hit batsmen and four wild pitches in 24.1 innings; after the break he gave up six walks, one hit batsman and no wild pitches in 22.0 innings. As a left-hander who is young (he turned 24 in November) and throws hard (his fastball sat in the low 90s), it's hard to imagine some team would not take a chance on him, especially since he has options remaining (which means he can be sent to the minors without fear of losing him to another club).