While watching him develop over the past seven seasons, the Braves gained the sense that Pena would be a valuable starting shortstop for many Major League teams. Fortunately, the 26-year-old shortstop will likely get that opportunity with the Royals, who have obtained his services in exchange for Minor League right-hander Erik Cordier.
Cordier had Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery in December, and will miss all of this season. But the hard-throwing 21-year-old right-hander is a highly-regarded prospect, who the Royals selected in the second round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft.
"With this deal, we acquire a real power arm," Braves general manager John Schuerholz said. "He's a pitcher who -- before his Tommy John surgery -- was ranked near the top of [the Royals'] prospect list."
It may be some time before the hard-throwing and injury-plagued Cordier begins to provide the potential dividends this trade provides. But by getting him, the Braves at least gained some value, which is something they wouldn't have received had they lost Pena via the waiver wire.
Pena, who hit .342 (13-for-38) in Grapefruit League action, was out of options. Thus, if he wasn't on their 25-man roster, the Braves would have had to place him on waivers, and there was a near certainty that he would have been claimed by another organization.
"It's always tough to trade your own homegrown guys and guys who play well and earned their way to the big leagues," Schuerholz said. "Tony was going to have to be put on waivers and we don't think he would have gotten through."
As they've grown impatient with former American League Rookie of the Year Angel Berroa's development, the Royals have been seeking a young shortstop to serve as their starter this year. With Pena, they likely got the best available option -- at least from a defensive standpoint.
"I hate to see Tony go," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He's a great kid and terrific shortstop. He's ready to play in the big leagues right now. There aren't too many people around who can play shortstop like him."
Cordier, the Royals' second-round selection in the 2004 draft, has a fastball that has been clocked as high as 98 mph. Unfortunately, the 6-foot-3, 21-year-old top prospect also has an injured past that has limited him to just 13 starts over the course of the past three seasons.
Cordier missed all of the 2005 season, while recovering from a knee injury he suffered just a few weeks after the 2004 draft. Then, after compiling 52 2/3 innings in 10 starts in 2006, he began experiencing right elbow soreness that led to Tommy John surgery. He's not expected to be able to even start throwing until after this season concludes.
Cordier isn't expected to pitch again until next year's Spring Training begins.
"We thought enough of him based on our scouting judgments that it was worth the wait," Braves assistant general manager Frank Wren said of Cordier, who posted a 2.70 ERA and limited opponents to a .203 batting average in seven starts for Class A Burlington last year.
Though they have tremendous respect for Pena, the Braves simply didn't have space for him. With Edgar Renteria in place, they had no way to utilize him as their starting shortstop. Nor would it have been business savvy to utilize him as one of their utility infielders.
Entering Spring Training, the Braves targeted Chris Woodward and Willy Aybar to serve as their utility infielders. They signed Woodward to an $850,000 deal during the offseason. As for Aybar, he is out of options and they certainly weren't going to just part ways with him just eight months after getting him from the Dodgers in exchange for Wilson Betemit.
Before he hit .282 with Triple-A Richmond last year, Pena's value was limited to his strong defensive skills. But while continuing to hit over the past couple of weeks, he gave teams even more reason to be interested in him.
With the Royals, Pena will be reunited with Dayton Moore, who fully understands the great strides the shortstop has made during his first seven professional seasons. Before becoming Kansas City's general manager last year, Moore was an assistant general manager in charge of the Braves' player development department.
"[Moore] saw me grow up as a player and a man," Pena said. "Right now, I'm just speechless. This is all just hitting me quick."
With Aybar's sore left hand likely to force him to start the season on the disabled list, Pena may have been able to start the season as one of Atlanta's utility infielders.
Now that Pena is out of the mix, the Braves may begin the season with either Pete Orr or Yunel Escobar as their second utility infielder. Orr can play all three infield positions, and Escobar's liability comes from the fact he's had no experience at second base. But Woodward is capable of serving as a backup at both middle-infield positions.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.