In a move that was slightly surprising, Derrek Lee was traded to the Braves on Wednesday.
It wasn't really a surprise that the Cubs wanted to trade him. After all, they did try to make a swap with the Angels involving the veteran first baseman not too long ago.
And it wasn't a shock that someone would want the former triple crown candidate. Not only has Derrek Lee put together some very good seasons in his career (not the least of which came just last season), but he's a great clubhouse presence that will serve a contending team such as the Braves well as they try to make a run at the World Series.
What was unexpected, to a certain extent, was that the 34-year-old would waive his no-trade clause after refusing the earlier trade to the much-closer-to-home Angels. Lee's explanation was simple enough, though:
"It just felt right," Lee said. "The main thing is we have six weeks to go and Atlanta is in first place and they're playing great baseball. I understand what Jim's trying to do here, so it just felt right.
"The chance to go to the postseason, it's hard to pass up," said Lee, who already has a World Series ring from the 2003 Marlins. "[The Braves] have a great organization, and I've always respected Bobby [Cox]. The timing [with the Angels deal], it just didn't seem right then. The Angels were close but not right there. Moving your family for that period of time -- this time, it seemed right."
So, with Lee's consent, he was sent to the National League East leading Braves in a familiar looking exchange. Stop me if you've heard this before.
A 34-year-old veteran position player with an expiring contract is sent packing for a package of three minor league pitchers: a 19-year-old starter and two relievers in their early twenties.
This time around it was Lee to the Braves for Robinson Lopez, Jeff Lorick, and Tyrelle Harris. In December of 2008 it was Mark DeRosa to the Indians for Chris Archer, Jeff Stevens, and John Gaub.
Considering that Archer is now tearing it up for Double-A Tennessee, and both Stevens and Gaub were contending for major league roster spots coming into spring training, you can't blame the Cubs for going back to the same formula. Cubs fans can only hope that this trade proves to be at least that fruitful.
Another surprise came in a corresponding roster move.
While it was originally thought that Micah Hoffpauir would get called up to take Lee's spot on the 25-man roster (the 30-year-old was already on his way to the airport), that transaction couldn't be completed. Hoffpauir had yet to spend the required ten days in the minor leagues since being optioned to Triple-A Iowa last Friday.
In his stead will be outfielder Sam Fuld. If nothing else, Fuld should provide good defense, a patient eye at the plate, and a base-stealing threat for a team that, at times, has been lacking in each of those areas.
Just as Hoffpauir was getting his chance to prove that he's deserving of a roster spot for 2011 when he filled in for Lee last week, Fuld is probably getting his chance to prove that he can stay on the North Side as a backup outfielder.
Recent news out of Chicago may mean a bigger role could be available for the 28-year-old, though.
Although Xavier Nady and Jeff Baker will be filling in at first base for the time being, and Micah Hoffpauir or Bryan LaHair could do the same if they get recalled later this year, Tyler Colvin has begun taking grounders at first base.
It might just end up being a short-term move to give the team more options at the position. After all, the 24-year-old outfielder hasn't played the position since doing it part-time as a sophomore at Clemson University. But in an organization that doesn't have any (somewhat) immediate first base options under the age of 27, the idea of sticking the young left-handed slugger at the position is an intriguing possibility.
At the very least it would make Colvin as versatile as a left-handed player can become defensively. If he can start at the position next season, however, then the team wouldn't have to sign a high-priced free agent this offseason or shift the problem to third base by moving Aramis Ramirez across the diamond.
If he truly shines at first base, it could keep the organization from worrying about the position for many years to come and allow outfield prospects to get more playing time and get it sooner.
That's where Fuld might benefit. Why?
Well, the Cubs starting outfield next year will almost certainly include Alfonso Soriano and Marlon Byrd, but the third spot (assuming, for the sake of argument, that Colvin is at first base) is not quite solidified. Nady might not be re-signed, Kosuke Fukudome might be traded, and Brett Jackson probably won't be ready just yet.
That situation would leave roster spots open for three outfielders (one starter and two backups). The way I see it, Fuld and Snyder will get two of those spots unless they prove themselves undeserving.
Then, if one of them will be starting, Fuld might have the advantage.
That might seem counter intuitive since Snyder is having such a good offensive year in Triple-A this season, but he offers something Snyder doesn't.
With Colvin, Ramirez, Byrd, and Soriano likely forming the heart of the order, Castro likely staying in the two-hole, and Geovany Soto not being much of an option to leadoff, the team would be looking for that role to be filled by their second baseman or remaining outfielder.
The Cubs have been looking for someone to fill that role for quite some time now and nothing says "leadoff hitter" like a contact hitter who draws a good amount of walks, doesn't strike out a whole lot, and can steal his share of bases.
Fuld fits that mold better than Blake DeWitt, Darwin Barney, or Snyder. He probably fits it better than anyone the Cubs might acquire, too.
So, in a matter of only a few days, the look of this ballclub may have changed dramatically going forward. And it's all because of one measly trade.
How can you not love this game?
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