ST. LOUIS -- Catcher Francisco Pena is returning to the Cardinals on a Minor League deal that positions him as the favorite to earn the job as Yadier Molina's backup for a second straight season.The Cardinals needed to address this hole after including presumed backup Carson Kelly in their December
ST. LOUIS -- Catcher Francisco Pena is returning to the Cardinals on a Minor League deal that positions him as the favorite to earn the job as Yadier Molina's backup for a second straight season.
The Cardinals needed to address this hole after including presumed backup Carson Kelly in their December trade for Paul Goldschmidt. That left Molina as the lone catcher on the team's 40-man roster. The club needed additional protection behind Molina since top catching prospect, and the Cardinals' No. 5 overall prospect per MLB Pipeline, Andrew Knizner, is earmarked to begin the year in Triple-A.
Despite drawing only 30 starts last season, Pena embraced his role behind Molina and impressed the organization with his ability to handle the pitching staff. That built-in familiarity was one of the reasons the Cardinals were interested in a reunion.
Pena hit .203/.239/.271 over a career-high 142 plate appearances in 2018. He became a free agent in November after the Cardinals outrighted him from their roster. In signing Pena to a Minor League contract, the Cardinals will not have to open a spot for him on the 40-man roster until the season begins.
A lasting legacy
Josiah Viera, an honorary bench coach with the Cardinals' rookie-league affiliate in State College, and a friend to many in the organization, passed away on Christmas Eve at the age of 14. Though he lived with Hutchinson-Gilford progeria, a genetic condition that accelerates aging, Viera never let the disease keep him off the baseball field.
He played Little League Baseball until he was 10 and was introduced to the State College Spikes organization in 2013. Shortly after his first visit, the Spikes set up a permanent locker for Viera, who was known to offer pep talks and lineup suggestions in his role as an honorary coach.
Viera later made trips to St. Louis and Jupiter, Fla., to watch the Cardinals, even as his health deteriorated. In 2015, Viera was presented with the Harry Mitauer "Good Guy" Award by the St. Louis Chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
• After pitching for the Cardinals in parts of the last six seasons, lefty Tyler Lyons has signed a Minor League contract with the Pirates for 2019. The Cardinals designated Lyons for assignment as part of their bullpen overhaul last July, and the 30-year-old elected free agency at the end of the season.
• Though it's been 12 days since Ryan Meisinger was designated for assignment to open a roster spot for Andrew Miller, the Cardinals still have another week to either trade Meisinger or place him on waivers. That extended window is the result of Major League Baseball closing its offices for an extended holiday break.
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.