Discussion: Carlos Lee

Since their team won the NL pennant in 2005, Astros fans have had reason to feel frustrated.  A roster that has included the likes of Lance Berkman, Wandy Rodriguez, Roy Oswalt and future Hall-of-Famer Craig Biggio has averaged just under 79 wins per year since that World Series appearance. 

This unimpressive stretch of play has led some fans to argue that club should give up on its hopes of contending over the next few seasons and focus on re-stocking its minor-league system.  However, as MLBTR's Tim Dierkes pointed out in his Offseason Outlook piece last October, this is a team that "could contend with the right free agent additions."  In the wide-open NL Central, the Astros seem to be perpetually just a player away from a playoff berth.  Even in 2006, when the club finished 82-80, they still finished just 1.5 games behind the eventual World Series-champion Cardinals.

This winter has provided the same mixed message from Houston, following its 74-88 record in 2009.  Owner Drayton McLane spoke about the importance of developing young talent in an interview with The Houston Chronicle's Richard Justice last June, but the Astros' offseason moves (trading for reliever Matt Lindstrom and signing free agents Brett Myers, Brandon Lyon and Pedro Feliz) make it seem like Houston is once again reloading rather than rebuilding.

If the Astros ever did commit to a rebuild, however, the most obvious candidates for a deal would be their three biggest contracts: Berkman, Oswalt and Carlos Lee.  Houston has $2MM buyouts on Berkman's contract in 2011 and Oswalt's contract in 2012, but most people agree that these two iconic Astros seem destined to retire with the franchise. 

That leaves Lee, who is owed $18.5MM per season through 2012.  The outfielder has performed well in his three years in Houston (.305/.354/.524) but may be showing signs of a decline.  His 26 homers and .831 OPS last season were his lowest totals in each category since 2002 and 2005, respectively.  MLB.com's Brian McTaggart says that between Lee's big contract, poor defense (a -4.6 UZR/150 according to Fangraphs), full no-trade clause and a desire to stay in Texas due to his ranch business, Lee is "about as untradeable as they come."

Let's speculate, for a moment, that Lee could be persuaded (probably through a cash bonus) to leave the ranch behind and agree to a deal.  Houston would almost surely have to eat at least half of Lee's remaining contract in any trade, but for a big-market AL team that could afford to pick up the other half, Lee would be an intriguing DH option.

Perhaps the best fit is Chicago.  Much has been written about Ozzie Guillen's DH-by-committee plan for the upcoming season, and the White Sox seem committed enough to the idea to pass on signing Jim Thome.  But if the Sox find themselves in a pennant race and their platoon of designated hitting options (Omar Vizquel?  Really?) isn't working out, then they could make a play for an everyday DH.  Lee would fit that bill and, since he spent the first six seasons of his career with the White Sox, might be amenable to waive his no-trade clause to return to a familiar location.

This scenario is, admittedly, a longshot.  It's much more likely that, no matter if the Astros choose to keep aiming for contention or commit to a proper rebuilding process, Lee will be a constant in the Astros' outfield.  You could say that Lee is Houston's answer to Vernon Wells — an unwieldly contract that is too big to trade and also takes up enough of the payroll to hamstring the team from making other moves.


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50 Comments on "Discussion: Carlos Lee"


5 years 5 months ago

The difference between Lee and Wells, though, is that Vernon Wells is nigh-useless, whereas Lee is still a very productive, albeit overpaid player.

Guest
5 years 5 months ago

Yeah, but Vernon Wells may (I said may) have a comeback season. and Vernon Wells is just paid money that is almost uncountable.

Cheguiii
5 years 5 months ago

i dont think you should put wandy rodriguez next to guys like: craig biggio, lance berkman and roy oswalt….

Guest
5 years 5 months ago

Carlos Lee to the A’s? I don’t know Mark you pretty much answered the question…I don’t know how much they will get in return for Lee. I think Berkman, Oswalt, and Lee were just all signed to untradeable contracts. Thats Drayton McLane’s fault for pretty much doing anything to make the players happy. Possibly a Wandy Rodriguez trade…They should have traded Tejada, Valverde and W-Rod back at last summer’s deadline but once again, Drayton McLane loves keeping his Astros!

5 years 5 months ago

The Astros’ big problem is that they spend like a New York team, but have an average budget. It has been for quite a few years, now. It’s sad, really.

Guest
5 years 5 months ago

You are absolutley right. I really think that they should go the Pittsburgh Pirates way and unload as much as they can without trading Pence, Norris, or Michael Bourn.

Jonathan Gaston hit 35 hr’s and 100 rbi’s in the Mnors last season
Chia Jen Lo had a 2.03 E.R.A. last year in the Minors
Castro and Manzella are Major League Ready

So why not bring them up?

The Astros are just in a deep hole with money that they aren’t able to unload and as you said…”it’s sad”

vtadave
5 years 5 months ago

“So why not bring them up?”

Because Gaston has yet to reach Double-A, Lo barely has, Castro isn’t ready, and Manzella is a middling prospect.

Guest
5 years 5 months ago

Thats a good point then. Manzella and Castro will probably be in the opening day lineip just because they are the Astros “best” options for their respective positions.

kevin627
5 years 5 months ago

carlos lee sucks

stl_cards16
5 years 5 months ago

Wide open NL central?Haha…ok, this isn’t 2007 anymore! Brewers are a very good team if they can get any pitching and the Cardinals are ready to make a deep run! These are two very good teams. The Astros may be just a couple players away if they are Roy Halladay and Albert Pujols. But, I don’t see that happening

Taskmaster75
5 years 5 months ago

That was exactly what I was going to say. At least 3 teams have a legitimate claim to the top. Ofcourse, my completely and utterly unbiased opinion is that the Cardinals win it :)

kevin627
5 years 5 months ago

castro is gonna be a beast

YanksFanSince78
5 years 5 months ago

I think the most logical team that the Astros should try and move lee to would be the Rangers.a) He would probably ok the trade seeing as how he can stay near Houston and his ranch business.b) As he ages a little his career can be extended and his performance improve with the move to DH thus making him more marketable and improve his chances of picking up another deal once the current one expires.c) Prior to signing Vlad the Rangers had a need for a RH power bat. They can trade for Lee now and play him in LF or let Vlad walk after the season and replace him with Lee.d) The Rangers have new ownership and might be able to absorb a nice chunk of his contract.e) The Rangers have the best farm in baseball and might be willing to part with a couple if the Astros assume half of his contract.f) Lee and the Astros play a lot of inter-league games vs the Rangers and Lee has compiled a fantastic career line of .336/.385/.596 w/ an OPS of .981 in 273 career PA in Arlington Park.Lee is owed $18.5 per for 2010-2012. If the Astros were willing to pay $8.5 mil per year then I think they might be able to squeeze 2 good prospects out of the Rangers outside of Feliz, Smoak or Perez.

joshuap
5 years 5 months ago

Worth noting also that Lee had a stint (albeit, a brief one) with the Rangers before coming to Houston. So that slash line’s got more to it than just 3 games in Arlington per season since joining the Astros.

As an Astros fan, I’d love to see a deal with the Rangers. They’ve got the depth in their system and Lee really could be a nice fit after Vlad’s done, or if he doesn’t produce like they’re banking. Unfortunately, it won’t happen until Drayton concedes that we’re rebuilding. Lee’s responsible for too much of the meager offensive output we’re going to have this season.

bjsguess
5 years 5 months ago

Great post. One point that I would disagree.

If you are paying Carlos Lee $10m per for 3 years that is still a huge contract. You are talking about Matt Holliday and Jason Bay as the only positional players to see that much cash as FA’s. As a DH (which he absolutely should be), his value goes down. Unless Lee rebounds with an OPS north of 900, I think people will view him as entering his decline phase.

As such – a guy like Lee is worth maybe $7-8m. I believe that the Astros have to kick in $10m just to get rid of the guy. If they want any players back then you are talking about more cash.

Aside from the valuation issue though you are right on. It just makes sense for Lee to go to the Rangers.

algionfriddo
5 years 5 months ago

This sounds right on to me.
It’s not going to happen with Vlad plugging the DH spot for the Rangers at this point. Maybe Vlad and Lee could split DH/LF duties and keep both fresh. I would love to see Lee in the Texas lineup. It’s not going to happen if Huston believes it can get a top prospect from Texas though. Ain’t gonna happen.

laxtonto
5 years 5 months ago

Will never happen. There is a reason why Texas didn’t even offer Lee a legit contract offer the off season he left Texas.

Lee quit on Texas his last few weeks there in the field and would not be welcome back in Texas at all.He literally just stopped running after anything in the OF and giving effort going ot 1B. You could offer Lee at a huge discount and and as for C level prospects in return and it would be very unlikely to see Texas go for Lee.

Even if they wanted to, there is no place to put him in Texas… Hamilton in LF and Vlad as a DH with Davis/Smoak at 1st. Never going to happen.

YanksFanSince78
5 years 5 months ago

I’ll take your word on the issues with Lee and Texas but Vlad is a FA again next year. They could easily trade for Lee after the season and just let Vlad walk.

YanksFanSince78
5 years 5 months ago

I’ll take your word on the issues with Lee and Texas but Vlad is a FA again next year. They could easily trade for Lee after the season and just let Vlad walk.

laxtonto
5 years 5 months ago

Will never happen. There is a reason why Texas didn’t even offer Lee a legit contract offer the off season he left Texas.

Lee quit on Texas his last few weeks there in the field and would not be welcome back in Texas at all.He literally just stopped running after anything in the OF and giving effort going ot 1B. You could offer Lee at a huge discount and and as for C level prospects in return and it would be very unlikely to see Texas go for Lee.

Even if they wanted to, there is no place to put him in Texas… Hamilton in LF and Vlad as a DH with Davis/Smoak at 1st. Never going to happen.

soxluv
5 years 5 months ago

Guillen is not a fan of Lee. He never came out and named names but Lee was the guy Guillen referred to as “going into 2nd base like his grandmother was playing it”. That’s why Lee ended up in Milwaukee.

Ferrariman
5 years 5 months ago

This team really could compete.. They just need very good years out of oswalt who hardly showed up last year ( 4.12ERA ) and the 100% lance berkman. Add in an the continuing improvement from wandy rodriguez and pence, this team should finish at least .500, but I think the division is already set on who is gonna win it…

Guest
5 years 5 months ago

Okay…and if the Royals had Gil Meche and Brian Bannister have good seasons, Alex Gordon 100%, And improvement from Billy Butler and Kyle Davies the Royals will compete and finish over .500.

ddonahue5280
5 years 5 months ago

Biggio, Berkman, Oswalt, and…..Wandy Rodriguez?? Really? How did this guy get thrown in? Oh, and where did this random, oddly long article come from? Please, MLBTR, don’t let this become your new format.

YanksFanSince78
5 years 5 months ago

Carlos Lee to the A’s? I don’t know Mark you pretty much answered the question…I don’t know how much they will get in return for Lee. I think Berkman, Oswalt, and Lee were just all signed to untradeable contracts. Thats Drayton McLane’s fault for pretty much doing anything to make the players happy.
————–

I think people are judging those deals for Berkman, Oswalt and to a lesser extent, Lee a little too harsh. McLane’s greatest mistake is the no-trade clause. The market for players has obviously changed but..

Berkman @ $15 isn’t absurd when you consider what Bay just signed for and add to the fact that aside from an off 2009, Berkman was a lock for a .285-.300 bat avg, a .380-.420 OBP and 30-40 hrs and decent defense at 1B.

Oswalt @ 5/73 at age coming off of two back to back 20 win, 230 IP + campaigns w/ decent peripherals (ERA ranging from 3.54 to 2.94, whip of 1.33 to 1.17 and great ko/bb numbers). Last year was probably the first time he wasn’t worth his $14 mil. Only question is, is it a matter of lack of interest, an injury or simple age regression. But if healthy, is there much of a difference between him and John Lackey?

Lee certainly cashed in at the right time when baseball heads were less concerned with defense and the money pools over flowed with everyone getting fat.

I have more problems with the overpaying for role players like Kaz Matsui, Brandon Lyon and to a slightly lesser extent, Brett Myers.

If Oswalt were to have a rebirth in 2010 and were willing to waive his no-trade then I think he could find plenty of interest with the acquiring team assuming the majority of his contract.

stewie75
5 years 5 months ago

Carlos Lee kills the Cubs, so I’d definitely love to see him traded out. I thought Lee was making more than 18.5 though? Was his contract frontloaded? I thought I remembered him signing for 5/$100M.

bjsguess
5 years 5 months ago

Close … 6/$100m

518Ichirohasselback
5 years 5 months ago

Angels, Tigers, Astros:

Tigers get: Juan Rivera OF/DH
Chris Johnson (#8 prospect from Astros)

Angels get: Carlos Lee LF/DH
2m from Tigers
6m from Astros

Astros get: Armando Galarraga RHP
Peter Bourjos OF (Angels #5 prospect)
Tyler Skaggs LHP (Angels #7 prospect)

lefty177
5 years 5 months ago

how about the red sox if Big Papi struggles (which he’s not going to), Martinez stays @ C, Youkilis stays @ 1B, then El Cabillo & Big Papi platoon DH??

zachdukerocksmysocks
5 years 5 months ago

You want a platoon DH combining to make $30 million dollars?

Ferrariman
5 years 5 months ago

a straight trade of smoak for carlos lee sounds fair, houston is gonna need a 1st baseman when berkman is done and if they eat say…25% of the remaining contract, then its a pretty reasonable deal.

5 years 5 months ago

I don’t like the money involved in Lee’s contract, but the guy is as consistent as they get. Why even bother to trade him? He is more consistent than Berkman and was a legit MVP contender in 2008 before he hurt his hand and went out for the final 2 months of the season. I want Oswalt to retire an Astro, but he is the legit trade candidate on the roster. The past 2 years, he has had a poor attitude, been negative in the clubhouse with his comments about the front office, hurt, etc. Watch him rebound this year, and the I am suggesting that Houston move him. He is still a strong number 2-3, but is not a true number 1. Move him to a team like the Angels, Baltimore, Rangers, or even the White Sox. Even the Red Sox would be interested and possibly NYY.

Either Houston drops another smart 15-20mm into their budget to really compete with STL, CHC or any other real NL threat (LAD, FLA, SFG, PHI, etc) or REBUILD from the ground up.

Ferrariman
5 years 5 months ago

their payroll is already like 107MM…..another 20 million puts them in the same league as the mets and cubs in payroll..and those 2 teans are just doing really well right now ya’ know.

5 years 5 months ago

Houston needs to commit to one direction or the other. Either commit to win, or commit to running this as a business.

If they commit to win, they need to drop 15-20m into their payroll to preserve the 100m they already have tied up for the next 3 years. (see Donald Trump)

If they commit to just callinng this a business, restructure and rebuild from the ground up. Shed the excess weight (payroll) and buy starving talent in the FA to repeat 74 wins for a lesser price. I mean come on, how hard can that really be. Let’s play with that for a minute:

1b: Garciaparra: Old, but how much could he command? 4m? or Blum – 1m?
2b: Matsui: Just finish this one out. 5m or Maysonet – 600k
SS: Manzella – 600k
3b: Feliz – 5m
C: Quintero/Towles – 600k
LF: Gomes – 3-4m
CF: Bourne – 3m
RF: Pence – 4m

Approx 38m or with Lance – 49m

SP: Bedard: 5-7m or just supply a no 5 from in house – 600k
SP: W-Rod – 7m
SP: Myers – 5m
SP: Smoltz – asking 4m
SP: P. Martinez – 5m

Approx 20-28m.

Bullpen/Bench
Estimate 15-20m?

– approx 73-86m

Now that may still seem high, and yes lots of age, but come on, you’re telling me that something like that could not repeat 74 wins? And there are still quite a few ways to shave some more of the budget off. We have plenty of money tied up in the bullpen so with the older guys (Martinez, Smoltz) we have relief for them.

With guys like Smoltz and Martinez, they appeal to the traditional baseball crowd and the large hispanic community in Houston. Garciaparra was a total leader in LAD and again, appealed to the big hispanic population. If he gets hurt, back him up off the bench. Great veteran leadership and could help with the grooming of Manzella. Bedard has great potential, proved he can pitch in the AL, so why not in the NL?

Yes, batting average will suffer. Defense won’t really get any worse.

Again, you’re telling me that a team like that could not reproduce the 74-88 with this lineup, or even a slightly lower grade and cheaper one?

Speculation, but I love these type of discussions.

This helps the farm and provides budget relief.

Counter offer?

kevinhua
5 years 5 months ago

i agree management needs to pick one or the other cant have both and expect to compete

kevmill21
5 years 5 months ago

im pretty confident the rangers have no use for carlos lee. him nor vlad can play the field, hamilton/borbon/cruz and murphy is pretty set as it is. and down the road a year, if vlad is gone or declines instead of bouncing back, one of smoak or davis should be providing equal production to an aging lee at next to no cost.

Ferrariman
5 years 5 months ago

carlos lee can still play the field ( albeit not very well ) but vlad and matsui and thome, etc etc are absolutely not aloud to touch the field unless they are running the base paths.

Guest
5 years 5 months ago

Too much. The White Sox’s system is already almost empty as it is

Nicolas_C
5 years 5 months ago

Nah dude, way too much, coming from a Sox an. He’s not exactly a superstar anymore, as his .831 OPS last year was near Jim Thome’s, and they declined to bring him back. Don’t forget, Carlos plays with that beneficial short porch in left field in Houston, where I’m assuming almost all of his homers go. Just Hudson and Viciedo would be too much, and I’m not too familiar with the other two.

coco1997
5 years 5 months ago

No offense, but this is a horrible idea. I’d be hesitant to even do that move for Adrian Gonzalez, who might actually be worth it.

Guest
5 years 5 months ago

Yeah the cash is fine there but if its going to be the White Sox it may have to be a three way trade…

Gavin Floyd and Carlos Torres to the Mariners
Alex Liddi and Josh Fields to the Astros
Carlos Lee to the White Sox

I dont know this is just wishful thinking.

Nicolas_C
5 years 5 months ago

Lee could be a good fit I think, but I wouldn’t give up what’s left of our 30th ranked farm system for him. Jenks is certainly expendable, as we have Thornton and Putz which have both proven they can be dependable (Putz obviously with the larger sampling). However, the Astros threw Brandon Lyon 5 million dollars a year over 3 years, and I couldn’t see any team doing that to a player unless they envision him as their closer.

Guest
5 years 5 months ago

thats why its wishful thinking…I just dont think that there is any chance of the Astros trading Carlos Lee.

I think that there are better chances of seeing Wandy Rodriguez, Kaz Matsui, and Jeff Fulchino get traded. Thats why I think that Ed Wade was brought into a black hole situation. Drayton McLane feels the need to baby every player he gets and taking the price tag off them by claiming that they are his “favorites”. The Astros should have traded Miguel Tejada, Wandy Rodriguez, and Geoff Blum, and Jose Valverde at last summers deadline.

Maybe a trade of

Wandy Rodriguez
Carlos Lee

for

Tommy Hunter
David Murphy
Brandon McCarthy
Chris Davis

billmelton
5 years 5 months ago

Fields is already gone…I think if the Chisox make a play for a permanent DH, it will be for Dunn.

billmelton
5 years 5 months ago

Morel and Rethorford have been real gems out of the Chisox farm system. Iwould not be surprised if one is traded this year…

Nicolas_C
5 years 5 months ago

With Kenny Williams, I wouldn’t be surprised at anything. He loves giving up the future for the now.

illiniharrison
5 years 5 months ago

the other josh fields of the mariners i believe where he was at

brotherfromanotherplanet
5 years 5 months ago

This is a different Josh Fields than the one traded to the Royals. This Josh Fields is a reliever in Mariners system.

billmelton
5 years 5 months ago

Your’e right-if KW pulls the trigger for a LH bat sometime during the season , he certainly would not trade for a platoon of Lee (and the others in the “rotating DH” scheme) and inherit his big salary. If he does decide to do this, I hope it is for someone like Adrian Gonzalez.

billmelton
5 years 5 months ago

Your’e right-if KW pulls the trigger for a LH bat sometime during the season , he certainly would not trade for a platoon of Lee (and the others in the “rotating DH” scheme) and inherit his big salary. If he does decide to do this, I hope it is for someone like Adrian Gonzalez.