When you think of great Houston Astros‘ hitters, plenty of names come to mind – Jeff Bagwell, Moises Alou, Craig Biggio, Jose Altuve, Lance Berkman, Yordan Alvarez – just to name a few.
It’s a long undistinguished list. One name that doesn’t seem to get mentioned enough is Carlos Lee. This is a down-right shame, because when you look at Lee’s six years with the Astros, you are reminded about how good Carlos Lee was at smacking the baseball.
Nicknamed “El Caballo” (or The Horse), Carlos Lee was a Panamanian native drafted in 1997 and made his debut in the big leagues with the Chicago White Sox in 2000.
During the early 2000s, Lee made a name for himself as a power right-handed bat that pitchers feared when he stepped into the batter’s box.
Lee was one of the more sought-after free agents that hit the market in 2006 and the Astros managed to sign him for then size-able six-year, $100 million contract.
Carlos Lee’s Astros career seems to go undervalued.
Lee brought back some serious returns on that contract with his incredible play on the field in 2007. He weighed in the expectations. Lee hit .303 BA with a .859 OPS to go along with 32 home runs and 116 RBIs.
He was named an All-Star and went on to win the National League Silver Slugger Award. That season both he and Lance Berkman combined to hit 66 home runs and 221 RBIs – quite possibly the best power hitting duo ever in franchise history.
From 2007 to 2010, Lee hit 110 home runs for Houston and amassed 410 RBIs with a steady .290 batting average. He was often criticized from his lack of defense, but no one could argue offensive impact he had hitting cleanup for Houston.
Victim of Bad Timing
So why does he get lost when we talk about great Astro hitters? Frankly its because the Astros were not very good during his peak years. He signed in 2007 and both Berkman and Lee were super-human hitters – the rest of the team was not good.
At that time, Bagwell had retired, Biggio was near retirement and the lack of down roster in the dugout couldn’t keep up with the other NL contenders.
The Astros fell into a predictable rebuilding phase. Even with stars like Lee, Berkman and Roy Oswalt, injuries and lack of down-roster talent brought the Houston Astros down from NL Champ contenders to NL Central bottom feeders.
The other reason was the gaudy numbers his fellow peers put up. Lee was a beast at the plate, but was never in the conversation with the great power hitters of his era. He never reached the high 40s in season home run totals like Ryan Howard or David Ortiz.
He didn’t have insane OPS numbers like Albert Pujols or Chipper Jones. And he didn’t have the star quality or showmanship like Manny Ramirez. Case in point – despite winning the 2007 NL Silver Slugger, Lee finished 19th in MVP voting!
Lee’s play started to fall off when he reached the end of his contract. The Astros won less than 60 games in 2011, and things were even worse in 2012.
Halfway through another horrible team campaign in 2021, new general manager Jeff Luhnow went into full rebuild and traded Lee to the Marlins for Matt Dominguez and Rob Rasmussen
Lee finished out his 13-year career with a .285 with 358 HR and almost 1,400 RBIs. Lee was a terrific player whose greatness as a player was unfortunately subdued because he was on a rebuilding franchise and played in the shadows of all the great late-2000s hall-of-fame power hitters.
Lee might never be considered among the best in Astros history- but he had a consistency and easy power about him that was exciting to watch and shouldn’t be forgotten.