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Free Agent Stock Watch: Derrek Lee

With his roster losing player after player due to injury, Braves GM Frank Wren swung a deal with the Cubs that brought two-time All Star Derrek Lee to Atlanta in August. Lee was just a rental player however; he's scheduled to hit the free agent market this winter as the five-year, $65MM extension he signed with Chicago in 2006 ends. Let's examine his stock...

The Good

  • After a subpar performance with the Cubs this season, Lee rebounded to hit .287/.384/.465 in 151 plate appearances with the Braves. Perhaps being on a contender reinvigorated him.
  • Even as age saps his power, he remains a strong on-base threat, drawing at least 71 walks in each of the last four seasons.
  • Lee has a reputation as being a tremendous defensive first baseman, and the advanced metrics back it up: his +12.5 UZR over the last three seasons is one of the best marks in the game at the position.
  • Lee fell just short of qualifying as a Type-A free agent, so a team will not have to forfeit a high draft pick to sign him (assuming Atlanta offers him arbitration and he declines).
  • At 35-years-old, a long-term commitment will not be required.

The Bad

  • Lee played through a torn ligament in his thumb at the end of the season according to MLB.com's Mark Bowman, and recently underwent an MRI to determine the extent of the damage and the next step. He also battled back and neck issues during the past two seasons, though neither landed him on the disabled list.
  • As I said before, age is beginning to steal some of his pop. Looking at isolated power, which measures extra-base power by removing singles from slugging percentage (it's just SLG-AVG), 2010 was Lee's worst power season (.168 ISO) ever, minimum 300 plate appearances. For comparison's sake, the MLB average for first basemen was .146 ISO this season, so he's still above average in that regard. But for how long?
  • Always known as a lefty masher, Lee dipped to just .257/.356/.421 against southpaws this year, his worst output against pitchers of the opposite hand since 2006.

The Verdict

Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko highlight the free agent first base crop, but Lee is about as good of a stopgap option as you'll find. He's a solid all-around player despite declining some in recent years, and his track record is both better and longer than other free agents like Lyle Overbay and Carlos Pena. Teams looking to solidify the first base position for a year or two while they wait for a prospect (or just want to avoid a long commitment) figure to show the most interest. That includes clubs like the Mariners, Orioles, Nationals (assuming Dunn leaves), Rangers, Rays, and maybe even the Cubs again.








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