Wednesday, November 26, 2003
PAYING MORE FOR THE SAME
MARLINS TRADE DERREK LEE TO THE CUBS FOR HEE SOP CHOI AND PTBNL
Wow, I really wish the Blue Jays could somehow realign themselves in the Central. AL, NL... it doesn't matter. Because Ricciardi would wipe the floor with the idiots in the Central.
As much as I like Derrek Lee, I think this is a bad move for the Cubs, and probably the smartest deal made by a Loria owned team ever. No doubt it'll be construed by the non-Gleeman readers as the first move of a Marlins fire sale, but in reality it's a wise move to keep the Fish competitive longer.
First, in praise of Derrek Lee:
Despite all of the I-Rod hype, Lee was probably the Marlins' best hitter this year. (At least until Lowell hit the DL.)
Rodriguez had a .843 OPS (124 OPS+) and 88 RC over 578 PA.
Lowell had a .881 OPS (132 OPS+) and 91 RC over 557 PA.
Lee had a .888 OPS (135 OPS+) and 102 RC over 643 PA.
(For those of you interested in GPA, Rodriguez hit .285, Lowell .290, and Lee .298.)
Now, there's something to be said for the fact that a .850ish OPS is more impressive coming from a catcher or these days even a 3B (at least since Chipper Jones and Albert Pujols no longer play the position) rather than a 1B. But Lee's a Gold Glover, and don't let that fool you--he's actually a really good defensive 1B. (Lee was second in ZR among NL 1B this year, and fourth last year.)
And while I don't completely trust the value of defensive side of Win Shares, overall they usually give a good estimate of a player's worth:
Rodriguez 19.21 Hit + 4.24 Field = 23 WS
Lowell 18.89 Hit + 4.15 Field = 23 WS
Lee 21.72 Hit + 3.69 Field = 25 WS
Considering Lowell's injury cost him 20-30 games, you could certainly make the case he was having a better year. But Lee was no slouch, and a big part of getting the Fish to the playoffs. (Even if he stank throughout the postseason.)
Taking into account that the Cubs this year got a grand total of 14 WS from their 1Bs this year, Lee will represent a substantial upgrade, and a similar performance in 2004 could give the Cubs another 3 or 4 wins in the standings.
So, why am I down on this deal from the Cubs' standpoint?
Because last year, Lee's career year, was his age 27 year. And historically, with few exceptions, players tend to peak around 27. (Prior to 2001, even Barry's best seasons were in '93 and '94--his age 27 and 28 years.)
Granted, Lee's numbers this year weren't some fluke. He had been progressing nicely over the prior three seasons (122, 113, 131 OPS+), and I think the Cubs can reasonably expect those three extra wins (all else being equal) courtesy of Lee in 2004.
The problem is that they gave up a younger and cheaper 1B who has all the potential to equal Derrek Lee.
Choi's batting average was a horrendous .218, but looking deeper suggests he was surprisingly productive. In 80 games this year, Choi hit .771 OPS (101 OPS+) with 28 RC in 245 PA, good for a .262 GPA. That's not great, but it's not bad for an age 24 year. And Choi's minor league track record (.860 OPS, .289 GPA in AAA; .1041 OPS, .344 GPA in AA; .963 OPS, .320 GPA in A) suggests he's capable of much much more. Realistically, Lee was a step ahead of Choi in his development by now (Derrek's age 24 season in '00 saw him finally establish himself in the bigs and post that 122 OPS+). But Lee's minor league numbers (.869 OPS, .292 GPA in AAA; .918 OPS, .301 GPA in AA; .790 OPS, .268 GPA in A) are if anything slightly inferior to Choi's.
I'm hard pressed to see how this isn't the Cubs trading a younger, cheaper, lefthanded player for his more established, more expensive, righthanded version.
If the Cubs' postseason window was short, this deal might make sense. (For instance, the Schilling deal for the Red Sox makes sense considering Martinez and Garciaparra's contracts are currently up in the air after 2004.)
But the Cubs' future isn't tied to the fate of Sammy Sosa (also a free agent in 2004). It's being carried on the arms of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood.
And Choi, younger than Wood, older than Prior, was a seemingly perfect fit.
In three years when Prior is 25, Derrek Lee will be 30, and if still a Cub, costing the a lot more than the $4.5 M he made this year. (I can't find numbers as to what he's owed in 2004, or how long he's under contract.) Choi, however, will just be turning 27, and still couple of years away from free agency.
This deal has Dusty Baker written all over it.
I'll give Jim Hendry some credit. He saw the writing on the wall, and rather than let Baker continue to play Eric Karros over a developing Choi, he went out and got somebody, well, good. It's a shame it cost him Choi, but Choi's useless to the Cubs if he continues to sit on the bench. Hendry knows it, and unlike his rival in Houston, he went out and made a deal to prevent his manager from regularly playing the inferior veteran over the more talented youngster. (If Hendry had somehow traded Karros, Baker would have simply started playing Lenny Harris at 1B.)
But for Cubs' fans, it's a shame Hendry just didn't trade Baker instead. It's a shame that, unlike Ricciardi, Hendry is content to let his middle management effectively dictate what happens at the executive level.
But there's good news for Choi, and for the Marlins. Unlike Baker, the Marlins' manager Jack McKeon doesn't seem to have any qualms about throwing untested players into the water, and the team's faith in their talented youngsters certainly paid off this year. Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, neither with a single game about AA, both contributed to the Marlins' impressive stretch drive.
Man, when the hell did the Marlins become such a smart team?