If the Nationals indeed were to sign the 34-year-old, it would undo virtually all the goodwill the team received when it signed right-fielder Jayson Werth a week ago. Last Sunday, the team was talking about this being just the first step of "Phase II" of the team's rebuilding program. No longer would the team rely on scouting and draft picks alone. They were now going after the best players available.
We are waiting, but nothing has happened. And while I understand that Adam LaRoche may receive better offers elsewhere, I can't believe that Derrek Lee is the next-best player available.
Look, there are just too many reasons to believe the story isn't true. First, Lee is getting old, and his stats are reflecting that. Over the last 10 seasons, Lee averaged .292/.378/.521 with 31 home runs and 95 RBI. Last season, Lee split time with the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves and hit .260/.347/.428 with just 19 home runs and 80 runs driven in.
True, a thumb injury slowed him early in the season, but he was mostly healthy when he joined the Braves and his numbers over the last 39 games in Atlanta were only peripherally better.
His clutch-hitting statistics also dropped in 2010. In 2009, Lee batted .320/.424/.600, about as good as it gets. Last season, he hit .283/.411/.552. With the game late or close, he dropped from .302/.381/.512 to .241/.355/.484.
And while he is a former Gold Glove winner, there is no question that his glove, as well as his bat, has seen its best days.
I’m guessing that this “news” is the Nationals trying to pressure Adam LaRoche into signing with the team quickly or risk losing the opportunity altogether. Really, of the suitors sitting in his living room, the Nationals make the most sense. He could be the difference between getting better and getting good next season..
If the Nationals can't get LaRoche and have to go "outside the box," they have a better prospect than Lee. Prior to last season, Cantu has averaged .274-21-94 with 41 doubles and a .320 on-base percent. His first-base defense is adequate to slightly above average.
And he could come much cheaper than Derrek Lee, who would be blocking Chris Marrero and Tyler Moore if he signs a two-year deal. And he's a good clutch hitter, much better that Adam Dunn. With two outs and runners in scoring position, he batted .280/.358/.453, all great numbers under pressure situations.
Probably the thing that makes the least sense is that Lee is a right-handed batter. If in fact the Nationals were to sign him, they would have a righty batting second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth in the lineup.
That just doesn’t work at the major league level.
He’s old. His numbers are declining. He bats from the right side. And there are other options available.
I just can’t believe that the Nationals are really interested in Derrek Lee.
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