On Wednesday, the Atlanta Braves completed a four-player deal with the Chicago Cubs to bring first baseman Derrek Lee to Atlanta.
Atlanta gave up three pitchers in the deal to a pitching-deficient club; two were righties, and one was a lefty.
The trade beckoned a question within the minds of the Atlanta faithful: What about Troy Glaus?
Speculation flew that Glaus was done for the season; that this knee issue of his was more serious than first reported; that Glaus, for all he had done for Atlanta, was being thrown under the bus.
Then came what I suspected all along: that the Braves were wanting Glaus to reacquaint himself with third base to give the Braves two solid hitting and fielding corner men.
With all this said, what does the trade for Derrek Lee really mean for this Atlanta Braves team striving to stay atop the National League East division? Let’s analyze, shall we?
Derrek Lee brings excellent defense to Atlanta’s infield.
Derrek Lee, a 14-year veteran of the game, has not always been known for Albert Pujols-like power, but he has swung the bat well. He has shown power and average in spurts through his career and is hitting .251 this year with 16 home runs and 56 runs batted in.
My projection is that Lee will finish with about 25 homers and 75 or so runs batted in this year.
He had a career year in 2005, bopping 46 homers, driving in 107 runs, and hitting an astounding .335. The next season, 2006, he injured his wrist and was limited to only 175 at-bats, in which he still was able to muster eight homers, 30 RBI, and a .286 average. He hit well last season, hitting 30 HRs, putting up 111 RBI, and hitting .306.
This season, however, has been a season of issues for all the Cubbies. Yet to make my point, what has never been an issue for Lee was his defense. A three-time Gold Glove Award winner (2003, 2005, 2007), Lee has 89 career errors and boasts a career .994 fielding percentage. Nice, if you ask me.
I compare him to a good-hitting Doug Mientkiewicz, who only had 30 errors his entire 12-year career and holds an impressive .996 career fielding percentage. Only two-thousandths of a percent better than Derrek Lee? Yes.
To make a point about defense, it was defense that won Boston their championship. They had a few select good power hitters, but it was the defense of guys like Mientkiewicz who solidified the championship (and, in fact, made the last out...and then kept the ball and enraged Red Sox Nation).
As the old mantra goes, offense wins games, but defense wins championships. I guess it doesn’t just apply to football, does it?
Derrek Lee adds a great clubhouse veteran presence.
Lee has consistently been lauded as a unifying presence, one that held the bits and pieces of a shaken and shattered Cubs clubhouse over the past few years. Honestly, if it hadn’t been for Lee in the Cubs clubhouse, I doubt the Cubs would have gotten as far as they have over the years.
When you have such polarizing clubhouse influences as Carlos Zambrano, Alfonso Soriano, Milton Bradley, and the like, you are going to have choppy waters. Derrek Lee was oftentimes the team lifeguard, pulling good players out of choppy situations. Lee is gone, and the Cubs locker room will suffer. Who are your leaders now? Ryan Dempster? Aramis Ramirez?
Look, for all the Cubs’ good spots, and their bad, Lee was one of the best. I think Jim Hendry realized that the Cubs were the Titanic of the baseball world and that he needed to get the good people off before the ship ran afoul on the iceberg known as reality. Derrek Lee was one, as were Ted Lilly, Mike Fontenot, and Ryan Theriot.
Hendry realizes there is nowhere to go but down from this situation, and he is ready to bring her on down, restock, refuel, and try it again. You will see a new Cubs club next year if the front office actually cares about winning the World Series for the first time since Teddy Roosevelt was in the White House. If not, expect the Cubs to look like the 1980s Braves before it’s all said and done.
Derrek Lee Can Hit.
As I mentioned before, D-Lee has had good and great seasons throughout his career. When he’s been healthy, he has hit no fewer than 20 home runs since 2000, when he was with the Marlins. He even won a ring in 2003 with the Marlins and had a Gold Glove to boot.
But the thing is that he can hit, and hit well. He has a career .289 average, 309 career HRs, and is five RBI short of 1,000 for his career. Projecting that he finishes 2010 with 25 homers and 75 RBI, that would put his career numbers at 318 HR and 1,114 RBI. That would mean he averages 22 HR a year and 80 RBI a year.
If he finishes with an average of .275 on the year, meaning he would have to get 55 hits in 164 more at-bats (figuring around 582 more AB on the season with 41 games remaining and four AB per game), or pretty much go 1-for-4 every game, it would put his average at .283 per year.
An average of .283, 22 HR, and 80 RBI per year are decent numbers. Those numbers plus a fielding percentage of .994 means one heck of a first baseman, provided he stays healthy. He is 34, so he should have another three years or so left in the tank.
Derrek Lee isn’t a money-hungry player.
Derrek Lee is at the end of a five-year, $65 million contract. He made $13 million a year for those five years and probably knows that he won’t be making that much when he hits the free agent market. The Braves are looking at dumping about $20 million next year from their books, which is plenty of money to re-sign Derrek Lee.
My thought is that Lee will probably get anywhere from $8-10 million a year on his next contract, and given that he is 34, it will probably be a three to four-year deal, so you are looking at maybe a three-year, $28 million deal this offseason, or, at the max, a four-year, $38 million deal.
With the Braves paying him $10 million a year, that still leaves the Braves with plenty of money. Even Liberty Media can be happy with that (the cheapskates!).
So, give props to Frank Wren on a good trade for a good player. I can’t wait to see Derrek Lee in Braves garb. I want to see Lee, Rick Ankiel, Glaus, Chipper Jones, and Eric O’Flaherty back next year, along with Brooks Conrad, Martin Prado, Omar Infante, Brent Clevlen, and David Ross. We have a good thing going with all these young guys who perform well and get paid decently, but not exorbitantly.
Good job, Frank Wren, and welcome to the club, D-Lee!