When Chicago Cubs GM Jim Hendry traded first baseman Hee Seop Choi and a Minor Leaguer for Florida Marlins first baseman Derrek Lee in November of 2003, many saw it as a knee-jerk reaction to the Cubs' recent NLCS loss to Florida. To that point, Lee had a Gold Glove award and four consecutive season with 20 or more home runs, but seemed doomed to a life of unappreciated stardom in small-market Miami.
Six seasons later, Lee has 163 home runs as a Cub. He has added two All-Star selections, two Gold Gloves, and a Silver Slugger award to his trophy case. He has twice been to the playoffs, twice topped .400 in on-base percentage, and twice finished among the league's top 10 vote-getters for MVP. At 34 years old, Lee enters the final year of a five-year, $65-million contract signed in 2006 as the Cubs' unquestioned clubhouse leader and top slugger.
After a 2005 season that saw Lee crack 99 extra-base hits, including 46 home runs, a wrist injury and mechanical flaws in his swing held him to just 50 homers over the ensuing three seasons. In 2009, however, Lee rediscovered his power, and clubbed 35 home runs en route to a career-high 111 runs batted in.
Nagging injuries, primarily neck and back spasms, held Lee to 141 games, and could follow the tall, angular slugger into 2010. However, he will have a chance to take occasional days off if left-handed power bat Micah Hoffpauir can come off the bench effectively.
Overall, Lee's best value may be in his leadership off the field. He is a first-class clubhouse citizen and quiet, but not silent, captain. On top of that, Lee's walk-year motivation (Baseball Prospectus once estimated players perform nine percent better in walk years) make him a good candidate to keep mashing into the new decade.
Here are my projections for D-Lee this season:
- 149 games
- 580 plate appearances
- 29 HR
Yes, those numbers are down slightly from his great 2009. Take heart, though, Cubs fans: Lee will continue to produce, and be a steady bat for the heart of the team's order, as they look to return to the post-season in 2010.
Watch for other profiles of the 2010 Cubs, which I will be doing throughout the remainder of the offseason. Here are some of the ones already done, and some on the way soon!