Veteran Pena granted unconditional release

Catcher becomes free agent after Cardinals free up roster space for Cecil

Veteran Pena granted unconditional release

ST. LOUIS -- A week after designating Brayan Pena for assignment in order to create roster space for newly signed reliever Brett Cecil, the Cardinals granted the veteran catcher his unconditional release on Monday. The move immediately drops Pena into the free-agent pool.

The Cardinals, however, will be on the hook to pay out the rest of the $5 million contract they offered Pena last offseason. That deal was to be split over the 2016 and '17 seasons, though Pena's limited contributions in the first year of the contract prompted the Cardinals to cut ties now.

Signed to serve as Yadier Molina's backup and provide the Cardinals a switch-hitting bat off the bench, Pena instead opened the 2016 season on the disabled list after injuring his left knee due to a dugout slip late in Spring Training. The injury required surgery to remove a loose piece of cartilage, and the recovery took longer than anticipated.

Pena made his season debut on June 29, but he landed back on the DL a week later once it became evident that he still hadn't healed. He tallied five plate appearances the rest of the season. Pena finished the year 2-for-13 and made two starts.

With Pena out of the picture, the Cardinals are left with two catchers -- Molina and Carson Kelly - on their 40-man roster. Kelly caught 36 innings after earning a September callup and looked ready to be a big league backup. However, the Cardinals will also consider the benefits of having him open 2016 in the Minors, where Kelly can have regular playing time.

Alberto Rosario, who appeared in 17 games as catcher for the Cardinals last season, remains in the organization after being designated for assignment in October. General manager John Mozeliak also has ample time to scour the market for additional catching depth.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.