2012 in brief: Over-the-hill veteran helped Dodgers avoid the bullet of trading a decent prospect to Houston for him by refusing to accept trade to Los Angeles.
2013 status: Free agent with a boatload of “I really don’t care”.
That’s right, we’re reviewing a player today who never once suited up for the Dodgers, yet may have had a larger impact on the season than half the guys who did.
As it became clear that continuing on with James Loney was untenable, both the Dodgers and the fans began to look elsewhere for first base options, though with the Adrian Gonzalez trade still months away, the alternatives seemed uninspiring.
By the end of June, the Dodgers had settled on a deal with Houston that would have sent pitching prospect Garrett Gould for Carlos Lee and most or all of the money still due him. As you can imagine, we were less than pleased:
So you want to trade Gould? Fine. In a system deep in good-but-not-great righty starters, it’s the perfect place to deal from depth, and you can lose him without too much trouble. The question would be, is Lee really worth the effort? I mean, sure, he’s better than the execrable Loney, who is just two or three more hitless plate appearances from having his OBP dip below .300. But that’s like saying that Adam Kennedy isn’t your least favorite Dodger because Juan Uribe still exists; it’s not exactly high praise to say you’re better than Loney.
Lee entered play on Saturday hitting .291/.344/.410, which is fine, I suppose. It’s an upgrade, sure, but what’s problematic is that he’s hitting far better in Houston (.286/.362/.459, all five of his homers) than he is on the road (.297/.317/.347, zero homers). I get that Loney is terrible – and he is – but importing a guy without a single homer away from the hitter-friendly Houston park seems like an odd choice to try and fix your power outage. Toss in the fact that he’s a huge defensive downgrade from Loney, important in an infield that has Dee Gordon playing every day, and while Lee might represent something of an upgrade I’m just not sure it’s worth the bother.
Again, I don’t care too much about losing Gould, and we’ll see what, if anything, actually ends up happening. If it does happen, it’s not going to be too difficult to not see Loney’s name in there every night, I’ll admit. (Though I imagine he’d need to be retained for defensive purposes.) It just seems like a deal that would be more about doing something – as I joked on Twitter, “Carlos Lee is a hitter. We need a hitter. Therefore, we need Carlos Lee” – than it is about actually finding a guy who solves the real problem.
Lee kept the Dodgers hanging for days with the baseball version of a pocket veto, never officially invoking his no-trade clause but refusing to waive it, either. Eventually, the Dodgers withdrew the trade offer and on July 4, he was traded to Miami (who were not included on his no-trade list) where he did, well, nothing. A .325 SLG%? Hell, even Loney did better than that when he was still a Dodger. In over 330 plate appearances for the Marlins, as you can see above, Lee was essentially replacement level.
Gould’s not a top prospect (though at least one scout actually prefers him to Zach Lee), but losing him for the mediocre Lee never made sense, and who knows if acquiring him would have then prevented solving the first base problem for years to come with Gonzalez (who I wrote about this morning at FanGraphs). I know not everyone liked the risky Boston trade, and that’s fine, but as I sit here today, I’m much happier having Gonzalez & Gould than an unfillable hole at first base and no Gould. Even for those who argue that they may have made the trade anyway even if they had Lee, giving up Gould for Lee still never made sense, just based on what Lee was likely to do for the rest of the season.
So for you, Carlos, by refusing to accept a bad trade and then making us look great by being terrible in Miami, that’s a well-earned A++. Smell you never.
Next up! Juan Rivera, #RBImachine!