Pena provides Reds with Cuban connection

Published 2:35 am Monday, February 24, 2014

GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) — Brayan Pena was hoping to wind up in Cincinnati someday.

The 32-year-old catcher signed with the Reds in the offseason to be the backup for Devin Mesoraco, who moves into the starting role.

Pena got a two-year deal for $2,275,000.

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“The tradition and talent that this team has made this a great place for me,” Pena said. “I have been trying to sign here for a couple of years but it wasn’t the right situation until now.”

The Reds had incumbent Ryan Hanigan, who was coming off an injury-marred season that gave Mesoraco a chance to grow into the starting role. The Reds decided that Mesoraco, their top pick in the June 2007 draft, was ready to take over the job.

Cincinnati traded Hanigan and went after Pena to become the backup. Pena has played for the Braves, Royals and Tigers during his nine-year career. He batted .297 in 71 games for Detroit with four homers and 22 RBIs last season and threw out 24 percent of runners who tried to steal on him.

“Brayan was earmarked quickly,” manager Bryan Price said. “There was a strong feeling within the organization that Ryan Hanigan was going to be too expensive to share time with Devin, and it was Devin’s time to take the reins. Pena is a switch-hitter, a productive offensive player, a guy that pitchers love to throw to, a great teammate. He was a perfect fit for our club.”

Pena already had a connection, of sorts. He caught fellow countryman Aroldis Chapman during tryouts after the left-hander defected from Cuba. Although Reds management didn’t see that as an important connection between the two, Pena valued it.

“Chapman had a lot to do with me signing here,” Pena said. “He put in a good word about the organization and the fan base. Chapman told me they have a great chemistry here. Everybody treats you with respect.”

Pena knew about the Reds’ history of signing Cuban players.

The Reds had five native Cubans play for them between 1911 and 1919, including pitcher Dolf Luque.

Luque won 10 games on the 1919 World Series championship team. He earned 154 wins in 12 seasons for Cincinnati, including 27 in 1923, and is a member of the Reds Hall of Fame.

There were 16 Reds players and coaches between 1957 and 1969 that came from Cuba, including Hall of Famer Tony Perez, who was a key player on the Big Red Machine in the 1970s and was briefly a Reds manager.

The Reds signed Chapman to a six-year, $30.25 million deal on Jan. 12, 2010, and Cincinnati became a topic in Cuba.

“Chapman and I were talking the other day how excited people are in Cuba, that both of us are on the same team,” Pena said. “I am happy that I can continue the Cuban legacy.”