Cuban connection for Cincinnati

GARY SCHATZ Associated Press Published:

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.

"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."

Gardner signs extension with Yankees

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Outfielder Brett Gardner and the New York Yankees agreed Sunday to a four-year contract worth $52 million.

The new pact starts in 2015 and includes a fifth-year club option for $12.5 million and a $2 million buyout. If traded, Gardner would receive $1 million.

"It shows the level of confidence, belief and trust, and the type of player and person he is," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "We're excited to know that he's going to be a part of this team going forward. We're a better team with Gardy on it, that's the bottom line. This is a good day for him, and we believe it makes the future for us better."

Gardner has a $5.6 million, one-year contract for this season. He would have been eligible for free agency after the 2014 season.

"Free agency is something that, it kind of intrigued me, but it also kind of scared me," Gardner said. "I've never been anywhere else. I love it here. I love putting on the pinstripes everyday."

Houston's Fowler at home in young ballpark

KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) -- Dexter Fowler spent his entire career with Colorado before an offseason trade to the Houston Astros.

But the center fielder isn't taking the quiet approach of a new guy. He's already perfectly at home with Houston, taking over a leadership role this young team desperately needed.

"It's a good chance to get to nurture the guys," Fowler said. "Guys are here and I'm trying to get them over that learning curve because we've all gone through it."

As for his leadership style, Fowler lets each player dictate how he deals with them. At times he'll offer advice and other times he'll sit back and wait for someone to come to him.

At just 27, Fowler is one of the most experienced position players on Houston's roster after starting full time for the Rockies the past five years. The four other outfielders on Houston's roster are all younger than Fowler and none even has a full year of service time in the majors.

New position, new outlook for Seattle's Ackley

PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) -- When Dustin Ackley came out of college as the No. 2 pick in the 2009 amateur draft, the one thing the Seattle Mariners were certain about was the kid could hit.

His position on the field, though, was always in question - was he a second baseman, an outfielder? - but no one doubted the purity of Ackley's swing. Early in his career, the results followed.

And then Ackley started thinking. And tinkering. And thinking some more. To the point where he couldn't get out of his head standing at the plate. Suddenly the certainty about what Ackley brought wasn't so certain.

Now with a new position and a renewed approach, the Mariners are hoping Ackley returns to the hitter he was coming out of college and early in his Seattle career, and less like the tentative, often fiddling hitter he was during 2012 and early last season.

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