In a Tweet sent out from his personal account Wednesday afternoon, Brayan Pena informed his followers that he “was informed that he would not be returning to the Tigers”. It was clear that Pena enjoyed his time with the team – he could often be seen goofing with teammates (particularly Miguel Cabrera) in the dugout during games – and he expressed his gratitude toward the fans and his desire to remain in the organization several times via Twitter, but, in the end, it’s not surprising that the Tigers are “going to go another direction” with the reserve catcher role. The common thinking now is that rookie Bryan Holaday will serve as the backup catcher next season.
Pena outstripped most expectations with his bat this past season, hitting .297/.315/.397, but his defense wasn’t great (and at the age of 32 one wouldn’t expect it to get better) and it remains highly unlikely that he would be able to repeat his career year at the plate (he’s a hitter with a career OBP below .300). Pena wouldn’t be an expensive player to retain – probably around $1 million for another year – but Holaday would only cost the team the minimum and probably won’t even represent a noticeable dropoff in performance. His small sample major league slash line of .282/.333/.410 probably won’t hold, but he’s a right-handed hitter which makes him a good platoon fit with Alex Avila.
It is, of course, not a given that Holaday is simply handed the job. James McCann (who spent 2013 in AA Erie) could conceivably challenge for the job, and it’s also possible that the organization looks for another veteran on the free agent market. I’m operating under the assumption that payroll will be tight, so the in-house (read: cheap) options appear most likely to me. Then again, the Tigers would have to have their playoff hopes derailed because they didn’t have a viable everyday option should the oft-pounded Avila hit the disabled list for an extended period.