If you know what a baseball looks like and you live in Texas, you’re most likely aware of the fact that the Astros aren’t going north of the 80 win mark in the next couple of seasons. Looking to rebuild and acquire pieces for the future instead of applying the band aides, the Astros have some talent that can translate into big trade assets. Carlos Lee is not one of those… yet.
El Caballo took care of business during the first three years of his contract, knocking in over 100 RBI with a .300+ BA and an OPS over .830. Sadly, that is not what you would want from someone that is making up more than a quarter of your team’s payroll, especially when that means he is making nearly $20 million a year. Prior to the 2010 season, Lee had done what he was expected to do, and you must blame the Astro front office for thinking that he was ever going to be worth his contract. Making $1 million less this year than Roy Halladay, Miguel Cabrera, and Ryan Howard, Lee is about as unattractive a trade asset as any. So with a year and a half remaining on this poorly assembled contract, how can Lee become attractive to another team? Well first off, he needs to make the move from LF/1B to DH. But here are some more fundamental hitting reasons to start.
We will be needing to keep an eye on Carlos Lee’s ability to put the ball in the gaps and create extra base opportunities. On pace to have the most doubles in his career since 2007, Lee has been able to hit for extra bases inside the park at a much higher rate than he has in years past. With roughly the same amount of at bats with runners on or off, Lee hits more doubles (20) with them on (12) than off (8). The biggest lack in the extra base department, and most notable, is his homers. On pace to hit about 10 this year, Lee still hasn’t been able to take advantage of the short porch in left field while hitting just three homers in 158 MMP at bats.
Another area of concern this season is Lee’s inability to hit with runners in scoring position as much as he did in the past. Dipping lower and lower since his 2008 season, Lee has seen his RISP BA dip to .250 this season after batting an astronomical .338 in 2008. I don’t expect him to put up those kinds of numbers again, but you want to see your clean up man taking advantage of the opportunity to score runners if the opportunity presents itself. As Lee’s BA has been climbing as the year progresses, the RBI have not. With half of the season over, look for Lee to be able to produce at least 55 RBI during the remainder of the year for him to be taken seriously as a clean up hitter that could possibly make the transition to a DH in the AL.
Those previous ideas are what Lee can do to help the Astros cause. The Astros, on the other hand, have even more to do than Lee does. Swallowing part of Lee’s remaining contract will be a huge incentive for another team if they are to consider talking on the horse among men. Prominent DHs Victor Martinez, David Ortiz, and Bobby Abreu make $12, $12.5, and $9 million respectively. In order for Lee to make sense, the Astros will be needing to swallow more than half of his remaining contract at any time the trade is made. Lee can compete with these guys, and he will perform if he is moved the DH somewhere that needs him.
Jim Thome is only getting older, and the hurting Twins will need to look somewhere for offensive help if they want to continue to compete. Adam Dunn in Chicago has also been a bust when you look at his numbers a DH this season as well. If the ChiSox are willing to go round two on Lee, then they could find themselves possibly answering Wade’s calls when he begins to shop Lee around. Whatever is done, the Astros will need to swallow some of his contract, but that is just part of the game. Giving players like Jason Bourgeois more playing time and seeing what J.D. Martinez could possibly do may be what the Astros need instead of having an over paid player act like a financial anchor when a team is looking to the future.