Tampa Bay had a hole at the 1B/DH spot they quickly filled with longtime Rays slugger Carlos Pena, who re-joined the team on a one-year deal worth $7.25 million, as first reported by CBS’ Jon Heyman.
Pena, 33, spent his four most successful years with Tampa Bay, hitting 46 homers in 2007 and leading the AL with 39 jacks in 2009. Last season for the Cubs, Pena hit .225/.357/.462 with 28 homers, 80 RBI’s, 27 doubles and 101 walks in 493 plate appearances.
Pena will fill a gaping power hole in the middle of the order that wasn’t really filled last year. Evan Longoria had a season plagued with injury and ineffectiveness and Casey Kotchman often hit in the cleanup hole for Joe Maddon’s team. Pena is now back and re-energizes the Tampa Bay lineup.
Thursday Stock Watch
Vanderbilt- Hyped in the preseason and overlooked going into SEC play after a slow nonconference start, Kevin Stallings’ Commodores are now 4-0 in the SEC after a 10-point win at Alabama. John Jenkins scored 20 and Festus Ezeli had his best game since returning from injury, scoring 12 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
California- The Golden Bears earned a 69-66 win at Washington and have emerged as the Pac 12 favorites with a 4-2 conference record. Allen Crabbe had 16 points and 10 rebounds in the win, which moved Cal to 16-4 overall.
Colorado- The Buffs showed some promise in the Big 12 last year and their first season in the Pac 12 is becoming a very successful one. Colorado deftly fended off Arizona State and are also 4-2 in conference play. A 31-15 halftime lead did the trick, but a big home game against Arizona looms.
NC State- Don’t look now, but the Wolfpack are third in the ACC at 3-1 after a home win over Boston College. The schedule does get tougher now for Mark Gottfried’s team, with road games against Miami and North Carolina before a big home game against the emerging Virginia Cavaliers.
Loyola Marymount- There are four good teams in the West Coast Conference now that the Lions have gotten off to a 4-2 start in conference play after a big time 14-point win at BYU. Anthony Ireland scored 27 points against the Cougars.
Stock Also Up- Vermont, Wagner.
Virginia Tech- After seeing them in Madison Square Garden on Thanksgiving weekend, this was a team that was going to make a good push for an NCAA tournament bid. The Hokies were flattened at home against UNC and now sit 0-4 in ACC play. What a disappointment.
Illinois- Like Michigan State earlier in the week, the Illini had a huge chance to take over the Big 10 lead but failed to do so on the road against Penn State. Illinois still has good quality wins over teams like Ohio State and Gonzaga, but this loss will hurt them down the road.
Alabama- The Tide came up short in an opportunity for a strong conference win at home against Vanderbilt. After losing to Mississippi State on Saturday, ‘Bama has shown it does not belong in that SEC second tier behind the likes of Kentucky and Florida. By the way, UK is up next for the Tide on Saturday.
BYU- The Cougars failed to keep up with Gonzaga for second place in the WCC behind Saint Mary’s after a home loss to Loyola Marymount. After a must-win game on Saturday at Pepperdine, BYU plays at Virginia Tech before hosting Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga. Big eight-day stretch.
Washington- Another team with a wasted chance to defeat a superior conference opponent at home, the Huskies fell by three to Cal and now have to deal with second place Stanford on Saturday. A loss here would move a talented team into the bottom half of the Pac 12 standings.
Stock Also Down- Stanford, UCLA, Albany, St. Francis (NY).
Friday- The Horizon League and MAAC night on marginalized ESPN networks returns with UW Milwaukee, Cleveland State, Manhattan and Iona looking to hold serve on either ESPNU or ESPN3.
Saturday’s Top 10 Games
1) Missouri @ Baylor, 2 p.m. ESPN- A pair of top five teams and conference leaders will go at it with both clubs looking to take the Big 12 lead and assert themselves as a national title contender.
2) Mississippi State @ Vanderbilt, 7 p.m. ESPN2- The Bulldogs need a quality road win after falling to rival Ole Miss, but the Commodores are unbeaten in the SEC and are only getting better.
3) Syracuse @ Notre Dame, 6 p.m. ESPN- The Orange are still undefeated and riding high, but a tough test at the Joyce Center looms for Syracuse.
4) Florida State @ Duke, 4 p.m. ESPN- After shellacking North Carolina last Saturday, can the Seminoles do it again? The Cameron Indoor crowd will try to take FSU out of its comfort zone in this big game.
5) Kansas @ Texas, 4 p.m. CBS- The Longhorns are going through a bit of a rebuilding season, but they’re a tough team at home in Austin and the Jayhawks will have to play their best to fend off UT.
6) Purdue @ Michigan State, Noon, ESPN- Both teams are 4-2 in the Big 10 and Robbie Hummel is starting to get into a groove for the Boilermakers. Can Draymond Green and the Spartans hold serve in East Lansing?
7) Alabama @ Kentucky, Noon, CBS- The way the Crimson Tide lost to Vanderbilt on Thursday, this could have the makings of a blowout in Lexington. If the Wildcats get off to a fast start, Anthony Grant’s team may not have the answers to hold back UK.
8) UConn @ Tennessee, 4 p.m. CBS- The Vols have played a lot of teams well this year despite their losing record, and they do have a win over Florida at home. Coming off a home loss to Cincinnati, the Huskies have to regain their form quickly in Knoxville.
9) Cincinnati @ West Virginia, 3 p.m. ESPNU- It’s an unlikely battle for second place in the Big East with both teams going into Morgantown with a good deal of momentum.
10) Xavier @ Dayton, 1 p.m. ESPN2- The top two teams in an underrated Atlantic 10 go head to head with Tu Holloway and the Muskateers looking to steal a road win and further their conference lead over the Flyers.
Five More- New Mexico @ UNLV, Stanford @ Washington, Arizona @ Colorado, ODU @ VCU, LIU Brooklyn @ Wagner.
Bonus four more- Rutgers @ Georgetown, Kansas State @ Oklahoma State, Maryland @ Temple, UCLA @ Oregon.
Sunday- Three games to watch: Virgina Tech tries to save its season at rival Virginia (6 p.m., ESPNU), Wisconsin plays at Illinois (2 p.m. Big 10 Network) and UW Milwaukee plays at Cleveland State in a big Horizon League game (2 p.m. ESPN3).