Before I get into this article, I want to admit a few things. I didn't necessarily disagree with the Mark DeRosa trade, nor the Milton Bradley signing.
That being said, I think there was a better move for the Chicago Cubs to make this past winter. Something that I was very public with, before Mark Teixeira signed with the Yankees.
The Cubs should have traded Derrek Lee.
Now, I have been a Derrek Lee fan since the day the Cubs acquired him. His 2005 season was the best from a Cubs hitter since Sammy Sosa's three consecutive 60-home run seasons.
Since then, Lee has put up a solid .301 combined batting average. The problem is that he has only driven in 202 runs in those three years combined.
Hitting from the three-hole, that number should be higher.
Now, he did miss most of the 2006 season with his wrist injury, but he should be driving in 100 runs a year. In 2005, he drove in 107 and hasn't topped 90 since.
When you are hitting third in the best lineup in the National League, that just doesn't cut it.
On top of that, his 2008 home run total of 20 was his lowest since 1999, when he only totaled 218 at-bats. In 1998, he hit 17 during his first full season.
I think it is obvious that he is declining. While his defense stays strong, his presence in the lineup is not nearly what it was four years ago, and opponents know that.
Lee does have a full no-trade clause, but these things are always waived. Given the right circumstances, I am convinced he would have allowed a trade to certain teams.
While he is still a very valuable piece for this team, I think the Cubs would have been better off dealing him, and I will tell you why.
When Lee signed his five-year contract with the Cubs, it was for $65 million. That is $13 million per year, the total amount of Mark DeRosa's three-year contract.
That means if the Cubs would have traded Lee instead, they could have saved at least $8 million in 2009.
Lee's replacement would have been Micah Hoffpauir, a left-handed hitter who I believe could hit the 20 home runs Lee has hit the past two seasons and have a very solid average of .285 or better.
The Cubs, then, would not have needed to spend another $10 million on a left-handed hitter.
Though I love Milton Bradley's talent, I believe DeRosa in right field and Micah at first would have been a much more reliable combo than Lee and Bradley.
Plus, the Cubs would have another $18 million that they don't have now.
That money could have been spent on one of two things: a starting pitcher or multiple relievers, preferably a left-handed seventh- and eighth-inning guy.
They may have even been able to complete the Jake Peavy trade and sign a guy like Brian Fuentes.
Now, I know that would have been unlikely, even with a Derrek Lee trade, but I think it makes my point.
The Chicago Cubs could have opened the door for better options had they traded Lee rather than Mark DeRosa. I think the team could have been much more durable and versatile.
Instead, we are going into the season with a right fielder who has already showed signs of injury, a starting first baseman who, until today, had barely hit, and a backup first baseman who has been hitting very well.
I am not one to look too far into spring stats, but I fear that the decline of Derrek Lee will continue in 2009. I am sad to say it since I predicted earlier in the offseason that he would have a comeback year.
I hope I can admit I was wrong come October.
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