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.


33 Responses to Free Agent Stock Watch: Derrek Lee Leave a Reply

  1. Eric 5 years ago

    Honestly, I would remove the M’s from the potential suitors for Derrek Lee, unless he wants to DH. 1B Justin Smoak finished the 2010 season HOT!! He hit for a .441BA (15 for 34) with 3HR and 9RBI. I have no doubt that Smoak is the everyday 1B in Seattle for the next 5+ years.

    • basemonkey 5 years ago

      I’m borderline on removing the M’s from this list, but I understand your thinking. Hypothetically think about it this way, worst case scenario: if Smoak were not quite ready to start the season in the majors (e.g. he strikes out too much, the major-league life and pressure, etc..), all of a sudden, they have not as much flexibility to demote him to AAA for a little refining without a veteran fallback option. Everyone would have no other alternative than to ride out the struggles in the majors. Sometimes young prospects can be ruined by handing them the job, everything too soon. How would it work out if Smoak ends up having a month or two of drop dead struggles and they just keep rolling him out there to take the punishment?

      • Eric 5 years ago

        I see your point, the Rangers almost did that same thing to Smoak.

        However, Derrek Lee is a right handed bat. If the M’s were to bring in insurance for Smoak at 1B it would be a left handed veteran to platoon with Bradley in the case that Smoak proves MLB ready. Bradley was terrible in 2010, but survived against left handed pitchers posting a .235/.323/.383 vs a .190/.277/.331 against right handed pitchers. Bradley is a switch hitter.

        So to summarize: a LH bat, 1B/DH, and a veteran. Sounds a lot like Russell Branyan. While there is a 5M mutual option, I’d bed a 1YR/2-3M deal is agreed upon if the M’s feel the need to purchase that insurance.

        • basemonkey 5 years ago

          Yeah. It sounds like we agree. My gut just feels like Lee is maybe a season or two too early from being at that point in his career, where he has to willingly take what little he can get, and enter a platoon or role player situation. He probably has a season or two more where he can get a straight up starter job.

          On the M’s it’s on the borderline of blocking Smoak.

        • garrett16 5 years ago

          I am really hoping that the M’s sign Berkman to DH/1B. I’m not sure how much his price tag is going to be this offseason but if it is in the M’s price range he is the perfect fit. He would be the full time DH while spelling Smoak at first is Smoak performs up to snuff. If Smoak isn’t ready then Berkman can still play 1B at an average level.

          • basemonkey 5 years ago

            All reports thus far indicates that Berkman won’t DH. I am not sure but I think I may have read that he may consider retirement rather than DHing.

    • bjsguess 5 years ago

      Why is his last 34 AB’s more important than his previous 300?

      You realize how you can measure ANY player and find a stretch of 34 AB’s where they post amazing numbers. And even with those AMAZING 34 AB’s the guy still finished an OPS below 700. Not what you are looking for out of a 1st baseman.

      I think Smoak will be OK (better than Loney but not by much) but to anoint him the end all be all at 1st base if very premature. Having a guy like Lee could really help take some of the pressure off and allow him to grow into the position.

      Then again Seattle is destined to the basement in 11 so maybe given Smoak 700 PA’s is what he needs.

    • bjsguess 5 years ago

      Why is his last 34 AB’s more important than his previous 300?

      You realize how you can measure ANY player and find a stretch of 34 AB’s where they post amazing numbers. And even with those AMAZING 34 AB’s the guy still finished an OPS below 700. Not what you are looking for out of a 1st baseman.

      I think Smoak will be OK (better than Loney but not by much) but to anoint him the end all be all at 1st base if very premature. Having a guy like Lee could really help take some of the pressure off and allow him to grow into the position.

      Then again Seattle is destined to the basement in 11 so maybe given Smoak 700 PA’s is what he needs.

  2. flickadave 5 years ago

    I would also make the Red Sox a possible landing spot as they could switch Youk over to 3rd base

    • start_wearing_purple 5 years ago

      Personally I’m not a fan of moving Youk back to third for anything less than a high caliber slugger taking over at first. I still think signing Beltre long term is best solution for the Sox. Then if any of Pujols, Gonzalez, or Fielder hit free agency in 2011/2012 offseason, make a run at them and you’d be able to juggle Beltre, Youk, and the third guy between 3rd, 1st, and DH.

      • flickadave 5 years ago

        The possibility of making a run at either Pujols or Gonzalez is one of the reasons that I think signing Lee makes sense for Boston. Lee with a 1 or 2 year deal at reasonable money gives the Red Sox a lot more financial flexibility than Beltre (who’s 2010 season was an aberration similar to his 2004 contract year) for 4+ years at $12m plus a year. Then with Drew’s and Papi’s contracts expiring in 2011 you would have a ton of cash to throw at whichever stud 1st baseman is available and seems like the best value.

        It will be interesting to see if the Red Sox wind up giving Beltre a long term, expensive contract like Seattle did only to see his numbers return to their normal range.

      • flickadave 5 years ago

        The possibility of making a run at either Pujols or Gonzalez is one of the reasons that I think signing Lee makes sense for Boston. Lee with a 1 or 2 year deal at reasonable money gives the Red Sox a lot more financial flexibility than Beltre (who’s 2010 season was an aberration similar to his 2004 contract year) for 4+ years at $12m plus a year. Then with Drew’s and Papi’s contracts expiring in 2011 you would have a ton of cash to throw at whichever stud 1st baseman is available and seems like the best value.

        It will be interesting to see if the Red Sox wind up giving Beltre a long term, expensive contract like Seattle did only to see his numbers return to their normal range.

  3. Dave_Gershman 5 years ago

    I think the Rockies would be a good fit as a platoon with Todd Helton. Lee to me, has that Rockies clutchness and personality to him if that makes any sense.

    • Ian_Smell 5 years ago

      Though that would be smart, I don’t think Rockies management would do that to their aging legend.

      • Someone down there has to has to have the balls to say that he’s getting too old for this and it would be better for the team if he took a reduced role.

    • $1529282 5 years ago

      It makes sense for the Rockies, but not for Derrek Lee. He had a down year but he’ll still be able to find someone who wants him to play first base full-time. He doesn’t need to limit himself to a platoon situation — especially one where he’d be on the short end of the stick in terms of playing time — at this point in his career.

      Conceptually/statistically, yeah it makes sense, but there’s no real reason for Lee to do it. He’ll want to play every day, and I’m sure there will be several teams who will oblige that request.

      • Dave_Gershman 5 years ago

        2 things…

        1. Obviously you are right, but like Xavier Nady, he may be hurt by the market due to all of the other 1B’s out there…Potentially, Dunn, Konerko, Berkman, Fielder, Loney are more appealing through trade or Free Agency than Dunn, so he may be on the market come mid january and have to take what he’s given…

        2. I guarantee a team like the Orioles could be interested in giving him a full time job, but maybe the chance to win a world series (with the Rockies) could be more enticing than playing everyday for the Orioles.

    • friscofan101 5 years ago

      i dont think lee is going to sign on to platoon

  4. Slopeboy 5 years ago

    Why not Baltimore? He’s the type of player that Showalter likes, the park is ideal for him and he can take some of the leadership role the younger players need.

  5. jammin400 5 years ago

    Why not Pittsburgh? Doumit is useless and Garrett Jones isn’t any good against lefties. If they add Lee, they get some right handed power (something they have very little of) in the middle of their lineup and a good fielding 1st baseman, which they were weak at last season. You could still keep him fresh by playing Jones at 1st against righties some days. He would be a big addition for Pittsburgh for a couple years I think until they get some more prospects up (probably Rendon this season, so either he or Alvarez would move to 1st).

  6. moonraker45 5 years ago

    Toronto.

    • HerbertAnchovy 5 years ago

      No. We don’t need another aging 1B. We need someone who can stick around at first for awhile. Lee isn’t that person.

  7. TheHotCorner 5 years ago

    Though I don’t see it happening I wouldn’t mind seeing him resign in Atlanta for another year. This would give Freeman another year to develop if he is not ready. I think Lee will have enough other options that offer more of a guarantee to be the starter that he wouldn’t stay in Atlanta.

    • jadarm 5 years ago

      I don’t think Atlanta has the payroll to sign him to another year. I would be surprised.

      I am pretty sure they are going to give Freeman his due at the beginning of next season. I don’t know Fredi Gonzalez’s managing style well enough yet to know what kind of platoon he will employ but I am sure there will be one. Freeman has showed some exceptional skill with the leather at first during his limited time in Atlanta, …I just hope he is ready to have his name inserted on that lineup card for the majority of the season!

  8. cubfan4life 5 years ago

    I think Baltimore is a very logical landing spot. Especially with Andy MacPhail there. He was one of if not the main reason that he ended up in Chicago back in 2004.
    As much as it might make sense, I dont think that he will end up back with the Cubs. They tried to trade him to Anaheim and he passed, then they did trade him to Atlanta. I think that they have their eye on 2012’s 1B Free Agent crop that could include Pujols, Gonzalez, and Fielder and bringing in someone on a 1 year deal or if they could get one of those big names through a trade would be their priority. Guys like LaRoche, Huff, and Overbay on a one year deal make more sense cause Lee should get at least 2 years and maybe even 3 from a desperate AL team.
    Pay attention to the deal that Konerko gets cause Lee could get something close. Probably 10% less or so. Due to the injuries in recent years and the power dipping. One thing that will keep him closer to Konerko’s deal is the fact that he is still a Gold Glove defender at 1B.
    In the end my gut tells me that he is headed to Baltimore on a 2 yr deal with an option for a 3rd. Its a position of need for the O’s, Lee can be a leader on and off the field for a team that needs one, Familiarity with MacPhail, and while im not saying that they will make the playoffs they could surprise some people next year with the way they finished combined with Tampa’s likely regression, and the uncertainty surrounding Boston with a couple good moves this offseason I could see them finishing at or a little above .500

    Thoughts?

    • slider32 5 years ago

      I think you right, Lee would be a good fit for the Orioles. He is the type of player Buck wants. I agree they could surprise next yr.

      • cubfan4life 5 years ago

        I just think that its the most logical. They have a good young nucleus with Markakis, Jones, Wieters, Matusz, Tillman, and Bergesen. But they have a need for a guy like Lee who can be a leader on the field, and a solid bat in the middle of the order. He is still a plus defender and with the DH he can take a day or 2 if needed and just DH

    • slider32 5 years ago

      I think you right, Lee would be a good fit for the Orioles. He is the type of player Buck wants. I agree they could surprise next yr.

  9. cubfan4life 5 years ago

    I think Baltimore is a very logical landing spot. Especially with Andy MacPhail there. He was one of if not the main reason that he ended up in Chicago back in 2004.
    As much as it might make sense, I dont think that he will end up back with the Cubs. They tried to trade him to Anaheim and he passed, then they did trade him to Atlanta. I think that they have their eye on 2012’s 1B Free Agent crop that could include Pujols, Gonzalez, and Fielder and bringing in someone on a 1 year deal or if they could get one of those big names through a trade would be their priority. Guys like LaRoche, Huff, and Overbay on a one year deal make more sense cause Lee should get at least 2 years and maybe even 3 from a desperate AL team.
    Pay attention to the deal that Konerko gets cause Lee could get something close. Probably 10% less or so. Due to the injuries in recent years and the power dipping. One thing that will keep him closer to Konerko’s deal is the fact that he is still a Gold Glove defender at 1B.
    In the end my gut tells me that he is headed to Baltimore on a 2 yr deal with an option for a 3rd. Its a position of need for the O’s, Lee can be a leader on and off the field for a team that needs one, Familiarity with MacPhail, and while im not saying that they will make the playoffs they could surprise some people next year with the way they finished combined with Tampa’s likely regression, and the uncertainty surrounding Boston with a couple good moves this offseason I could see them finishing at or a little above .500

    Thoughts?

  10. slider32 5 years ago

    I think the Rays might trade Garza to the Reds for Alonzo and Grandal or Mesoraco.

  11. cubsfan1983 5 years ago

    Please Jim Hendry don’t bring Derrek Lee back. You have done some stupid stuff. If i was Tom Rickets and you came up to me and said i want to sign Derrek Lee i would fire you on the spot

  12. D Lee seems to be a perfect fit for any club looking for solid production and leadership. He would make the A’s my pick to win the West…but who in there right mind wants to play in that dump?

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