Juan Miranda: Déjà vu All Over Again

Miranda played 65 games for the Dbacks in 2011.

Rays fans are accustomed to seeing Andrew Friedman finding bargain after bargain each Winter and taking chances on undervalued players who end up being pivotal members of the Major League squad. The recent signing of Juan Miranda to a minor league deal with a Spring Training invite brings back memories of a former Ray who came to the team under similar circumstances...and flourished.

With the Hot Stove in full effect at the winter baseball meetings, the Rays signing of first baseman Juan Miranda hardly caused a blip on the radar, what with all the Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder talk.

But the Miranda signing (I can already see the nickname and t-shirt coming) by Andrew Friedman may add to the lore of his two percent approach.

When I had the press release appear in my inbox, the thoughts of Carlos Pena – his signing, his spring, his demotion, his reassignment and his magnificent comeback -- instantly emerged.

On March 30, 2007, I was in my second year working as a correspondent with MLB.com when Carlos Pena received news he had been reassigned to the Minor Leagues.

Pena had outperformed Greg Norton in the spring – four doubles and a .255 average -- and his performance on the offensive and defensive side of things seemed to have legitimized the signing by Andrew Friedman three months earlier.

On the last day of Spring Training, I stood next to three other media members and listened to a dejected Pena express his desire to compete on the big league level. He wasn't "ready to face the news of getting sent down."

The demotion surprised many of us in the media and his professionalism after his demotion impressed us.

"You'll be back soon," we told him.

Little did we know that time would come two days later after team doctors discovered Norton needed surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.

Pena started out slow, but he would go on to have the best season of his career, hitting a team-record 46 home runs for the Rays and establishing career highs in a plethora of categories including batting average (.282), RBIs (121) and runs scored (99).

This performance also solidified the genius of Friedman, who established himself as a wunderkind in baseball management.

In January, the Rays had made a roster move by signing the 28-year-old first-baseman to a minor-league contract.

It was purely seen as Plan C considering the Team Previously Known As The Devil Rays seemed well-equipped at the position with Norton and Ty Wigginton ready to split time.

Norton enjoyed a decent season in 2006, batting .296 with 17 home runs and 45 games in 98 games. Wigginton, who would eventually be traded during the season to the Astros for Dan Wheeler, had established career highs over the 2006 campaign with 24 homers and 79 RBIs.

Pena had been a first-round pick in the Major League Draft by the Rangers in the 1998 draft, but was traded twice before playing regularly with the Tigers from 2002-2004. His best season came in 2004 when he hit .241 and had a team-high 27 homers and 82 RBIs.

He started out the 2005 season as the starting first-baseman, but was sent down to Triple A in May and was released during spring training 2006.

After bouncing through the Yankees and Red Sox organizations in 2006, it appeared Pena was on the downswing of his career when Friedman swept in and gave him a chance. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Miranda comes in as a 28-year-old journeyman of sorts, a well-traveled professional ballplayer who seems to be on a similar path as Pena.

The Cuban native has had four stints at the Major League level with the Yankees (2008-10) and the Diamondbacks (2011). The Yankees had signed Miranda after the 5-foot-11 first-baseman batted .303 with 27 homers for Pinar Del Rio in Cuba's Serie Nacional from 2002 to 2004.

"Miranda is projected to hit over 20 home runs and hit .280," a Yankees scout told ESPNdeportes after his signing in 2006. "He doesn't swing at bad pitches."

When Mark Teixera was signed before the 2009 season, the Yankees no longer had a need for Miranda and the circuitous journey for Miranda began eventually trading him to the Diamondbacks.

His Minor League numbers show promise of power, 67 home runs, 105 doubles, and 297 RBIs in 1,640 at-bats over five seasons.

He has a career .226 (58-for-257) batting average and 11 home runs over 111 games in the Majors. He hit .213 with seven homers and 23 RBIs for the Diamondbacks.

Perhaps Friedman has crunched the numbers just right once again. Time will tell.



Based in St. Petersburg, Fla., Chris Girandola has been a sports journalist for over eight years and is currently the Rays Senior Writer for RaysDigest.com. His other writing credits include the Associated Press, St. Petersburg Times, Naples News, Florida Football Magazine, KentuckyBasketball Magazine, and Tampa Bay Business Journal. You can follow him on Twitter at @cgrand

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