JANUARY 24, 2012

Pena: "This is where I belong"


The Rays and Clear Channel Outdoor Advertising posted electronic billboards around the Tampa Bay area Tuesday welcoming Pena back.


Carlos Pena, of course, had plenty to say at the Tuesday afternoon media conference, talking for close to an hour. But he seemed to sum up his feeling about returning to the Rays fairly simply:

"This is where I belong,'' Pena said. "This is where I want to be.''

Peña agreed to a one-year contract for $7.25-million on Friday to rejoin the Rays, for whom he starred in 2007-10, and passed a physical Tuesday morning. He played last season with the Chicago Cubs.

He talked about how sad he was to leave the Trop for the last time after the 2010 season, and the how good he felt to be back on Tuesday, and again pull on his No. 23 jersey.

"I had so many great memories with the Rays,'' Pena said. "I look forward to creating even better ones.''

Pena raved about "the magic" that he feels surrounds the Rays franchise during its rise to prominence, and said he is confident "there's one more chapter to be written."

More from Peña:

* He said he and former Rays teammate Matt Garza talked often about their time in Tampa Bay while they were with the Cubs, and that watching Evan Longoria's Game 162-winning home run against the Yankees that put Tampa Bay into the playoffs, he felt part of it.

*  The Rays have all the necessary pieces in place to make an impact this season.

* He feels like he is a better hitter now.

The Rays are expecting Peña to add power to a lineup that finished eighth in the AL in runs scored. Over the last five seasons, Peña has averaged 34 home runs and 97 RBIs, though with only a .236 average and more than 150 strikeouts per.

Team president Matt Silverman said the Rays extended their payroll to the mid-$60-million range because of "who Carlos is" and the power he brings to the lineup.

Silverman said the Rays are "never comfortable" extending payroll but can handle it this season, so there is no need to trim payroll elsewhere on the roster.

The Rays do have to make room for Pena on the 40-man roster but did not announce that move yet. OF Justin Ruggiano was designated for assignment to make room for Pena.


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