Pena, Kazmir avoid arbitration, agree to contracts with Rays

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Carlos Pena's breakout season also landed the American League comeback player of the year a hefty pay raise. All-Star pitcher Scott Kazmir did pretty well for himself, too.

Pena, Kazmir and the Tampa Bay Rays avoided arbitration, reaching contract agreements before the club's self-imposed deadline to have deals in place before salary arbitration figures were exchanged.

The most productive season of Pena's career positioned him for a three-year contract worth $24,125,000. The 29-year-old slugger must pass a physical to complete the deal, which would pay him $6 million this year, $8 million next year and $10,125,000 in 2010.

Until that is finalized, the sides agreed Friday to a $6 million, one-year contract. That means they didn't have to exchange salary arbitration figures.

"I love Tampa Bay and I feel very comfortable playing with the Rays. I'm very happy to be able to be with the team for the next three seasons," Pena said in a telephone interview in the Dominican Republic.

"The team certainly is trying to become a contender. But we don't want just to contend, we want to win and we're getting closer. Things in Tampa Bay look bright," he said.

Kazmir, a 23-year-old left-hander who led the AL with 239 strikeouts last season, agreed to a $3,785,000, one-year contract. He's the youngest AL strikeout champion since 22-year-old Frank Tanana in 1975 and finished one behind San Diego's Jake Peavy for the major-league lead.

Pena set career highs for home runs (48), RBIs (121) and slugging percentage (.627) while earning $1.2 million in 2007. He set a season franchise record for homers, finishing with the fourth-highest total in the majors behind Alex Rodriguez, Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard.

He was sixth in RBIs and became the first player to hit 40-plus homers the season after being released by another team. A .252 career hitter, Pena was released twice in 2006, when he spent most of the year in the minors with Boston and the New York Yankees.

The first baseman landed in Tampa Bay after homering once in 18 games for the Red Sox, joining the Rays in January 2007 as a non-roster invitee to spring training.

The Rays reassigned him to the minors late in camp, a move that caught the slugger by surprise. He wound up on the Opening Day roster because of an injury to Greg Norton and then made the most of an opportunity he felt he deserved all along.

Pena's best previous season was four years ago with Detroit. He hit 27 homers and had 82 RBIs for the Tigers in 2004 but slipped to 18 homers and 44 RBIs the following year and was released in March 2006.

In addition to leading the Rays in homers and RBIs, Pena batted a career-best .282 and scored a team-high 99 runs. He homered a major league-best once in every 10.48 at bats, with 23 coming on the road and 23 at home.

Kazmir was a career-best 13-9 with a 3.48 ERA in 34 starts last season. He was 8-3 with a 2.39 ERA after the All-Star break.

Friday's signings capped a busy week for the Rays, who agreed Thursday with outfielder Jonny Gomes on a one-year deal worth $1,275,000. The team also acquired infielders Willy Aybar and Chris Fontaine in a trade that sent reliever Jeff Ridgway to the Atlanta Braves.