The Cardinals have agreed to a minor league contract to bring catcher Francisco Pena back to the organization, tweets Mark Saxon of The Athletic. Although Pena won’t be immediately added to the 40-man roster, Saxon suggests that Pena is being re-signed to serve as Yadier Molina’s backup in 2019.
Pena, 29, logged a career-high 142 plate appearances with the Cardinals in 2018 while Molina missed time due to injury, though he hit just .203/.239/.271 in that time. He’s generally turned in strong pitch-framing marks and caught-stealing percentages throughout the upper minors, but Pena struggled at the Major League level in both regards this past season — particularly when it came to controlling the running game (1-for-15 in throwing out base thieves).
Pena has demonstrated some power at the Triple-A level, where he’s a career .252/.296/.452 hitter with 59 home runs in 1376 plate appearances. For the Cards, it’s possible that they find a more experienced option at a palatable rate as the offseason progresses, but it seems that for the time being, the plan will be for Pena to function as the backup in place of the recently traded Carson Kelly.
Eventually, it stands to reason that well-regarded catching prospect Andrew Knizner will surface in the Majors as a backup to Molina. With Kelly traded, Knizner is now the heir-apparent to Molina, who is signed through the 2020 season. However, Knizner is entering just his age 24 season and has only 61 plate appearances at the Triple-A level, so the Cards understandably will get him some more minor league development time before giving him his first look in the Majors.