After striking a good deal with the Atlanta Braves for Derek Lowe, the Indians are apparently in on another deal similar to that one with the Astros for Lee. The Braves are paying $10 million of Lowe's $15 million salary in 2012, giving the Indians a solid innings eating starter at a decent price for the small-market team.
Considering that Carlos Lee is due to make $18.5 million in the final year of his deal in 2012, the rebuilding Astros are understandably reluctant to have him on their roster come Opening Day. The Astros have told teams they'll eat half of that figure to trade him, but it does not seem that the Indians will be willing to take on that amount of money for Lee.
I doubt the market for Lee is that heavy right now, so it is completely feasible that the Tribe will be able to knock that price tag down to around $6 million—or the same 2/3 figure the Braves had to eat to trade Lowe. In that case, the price would be right for the Indians.
Sure, Lee has seen his power decrease slightly with age, but the 35-year-old outfielder would have helped the Tribe's offense tremendously in 2011 with these stats:
.275/.342/.446 slash line, .788 OPS (117 OPS+), .339 wOBA, 18 HR, 94 RBI, 3.2 fWAR, 4.6 rWAR
For some context (among regulars), here is where those stats would have ranked on the Indians last year:
First in RBI, K% and rWAR, second in AVG, third in HR and fWAR, fourth in OBP and fifth in OPS, OPS+, wOBA and BB%.
Clearly, Lee would bring the sort of offense from the right-handed side of the plate that this lefty-heavy and offense-starved lineup is craving.
The other bonus of acquiring Lee is that he can play both outfield and first base. Though his defense in the outfield had slipped in 2009 and 2010, while splitting time between first base and outfield in 2011, he saw his outfield UZR/150 spike to 18.1 and his first base UZR/150 hold strong at 5.5.
One year of fielding data is too small of a sample size to definitively draw conclusions off of, but it is clear that not playing every day in the outfield allowed Lee to be better on defense than he's been in years.
Even if his defense ends up being around average, with his bat, he'll be a very useful addition for the Indians. Add in the fact that Lee will be able to pick up some at bats at DH, something he hasn't been able to do since joining the Astros.
Adding Lee would add some balance to the Tribe's lineup and give it some good depth in case Grady Sizemore gets hurt. If the Astros will pay about 2/3 of his salary and take a lower-level prospect in return, this move would be a great one for the Indians.
Adding Lee and Lowe would push the Indians' payroll over $90 million. Luckily, the Braves and the Astros will be paying about a fourth of that figure, leaving the Tribe's commitment under $70 million. Seems like a good way to compete with the heavy spenders as a small market team: get the other teams to pay your players' salaries.