In Defense Of Carlos Lee
Last weekend, the Houston Astros agreed on a trade that would have sent first baseman Carlos Lee to the Los Angeles Dodgers, in exchange for minor league pitcher Garrett Gould.
Lee, however, has a limited no-trade clause in his contract, and the Dodgers backed out of the proposed trade before he ever told the Astros whether or not he would accept the trade.
Because of that, I’m hearing a lot of criticism of Lee, and to a certain extent, I can understand it.
Look; I’m a fan too, and I wish that Lee was in a Dodgers’ uniform right now.
If that were the case, the Astros would have another prospect in their much-improving farm system, they’d have an extra $9 million in their bank account, and they’d get a half-season to evaluate another stint for Brett Wallace at first base.
The Astros, as of this writing, are 32-48, and Carlos Lee is an aging 36-year old first baseman, who not only has no future with the club, but is also unproductive this year. No, that .285 batting average isn’t terrible, but he’s a power guy, and five homers and 29 RBI’s just won’t cut it. Even more alarmingly, Lee has not hit a road homer, and has driven in only six runs away from Minute Maid Park. As a player, I think Lee has long seen his best days.
So, as an Astros’ fan, I get the frustration, and I do believe that Lee leaving would have been a good thing for the team.
But he didn’t immediately accept, and as much as I wish he did, it was his choice.
Lee was signed as an amateur free agent by the Chicago White Sox, at the age of 18, back in 1994. For a lot of players it’s different, as they are drafted out of high school or college, and they really have no choice in where they get to play, but in Lee’s case he signed as a free agent.
Okay, fine. So, he had a little bit of a choice. But even after he signed, he was basically property of the White Sox for up to 12 years. That’s because an organization has to bring you up to the parent club after six years, otherwise the player becomes a free agent, and because a player can become a free agent after playing six full years in the Major Leagues.
Lee played five years in the White Sox minor league system, arrived in the big leagues in 1999, and then played eight years before he was eligible for free agency, and then signed with the Astros prior to the 2007 season.
What I’m saying is, in a lot of instances, a player normally spends about ten years in an organization before he gets a say in where he wants to play.
In Lee’s case, he signed an extension during his first six years in the league, so he actually played eight seasons before he hit the free agent market, but that’s still 13 seasons that he was under club control, meaning that they could trade him to any team they wanted, before he got to decide, for whatever reason/reasons, where he wanted to play.
And at the end of the 2006 season, Drayton McLane, Tim Purpura, and the Houston Astros were there, with their wallets open, and Lee decided that because of the money, and because of his business dealing in the area, that Houston was the place for him.
Most of the Astros’ fans ate it up. The team won 89 games in 2005, and with the additions of Lee, along with free agent pitcher Woody Williams, fans were majorly optimistic heading into 2007.
Well, the Astros unfortunately never made the playoffs during the Lee era, but that wasn’t entirely his fault. In his first three years, he’s hit at least a .300, with over 25 homers, and at least 100 RBI’s.
Sure, his numbers have decreased every year since, but you should have expected that.
I just don’t get how a guy earns his free agency, then sings a contract that you offer him, puts up numbers, and then is blistered because you think it’s a bad deal years later, and because your team is nowhere near ready to contend.
And again, I’m not ripping on Astros’ management here. I’m sure they’re like me, in that privately, they’d love to get rid off Lee, but they also understand what the situation is.
I’m speaking more to the fans that are ripping on Lee for not taking the deal.
I don’t know why Lee didn’t accept. Maybe he didn’t want to leave his business dealings close to Houston. Maybe he wanted more money from the Dodgers. Maybe California was too health conscious for him. May he hated the Yankees as a kid, and didn’t want to play for Don Mattingly. Maybe he’s scared to death of earthquakes. Maybe syndicated television isn’t as good in Los Angeles as it is in Houston. I have no idea.
I just know that for most of Lee’s career, the team he was playing for held the cards. But now that he holds them, some people are criticising him for it.
Fans are also big on loyalty. If Lee were hitting a .300, with 30 homers, he’d be be called “loyal”. Instead, because he’s not hitting for any power, he’s called “uncompetitive”.
If you want to criticize Carlos Lee the player, then that’s fine. But if you want to criticize him for not doing something that you wanted, simply to benefit you, then I believe that’s unfair.
Lee played by the rules, and I don’t have a problem with it.