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Wednesday, February 11, 2004

NO FAITH IN THE COMMENTS

Niles:

Excellent post. I'm going to post my reply here because I the comments keep crashing. Besides, this is how they dialogue back and forth over at U.S.S. Mariner, and it seems to work for them.

Fear not for Travis Lee. As you suggested in a recent chat, he'll probably be a playing first base for the DePodesta Dodgers. (And I argued the Dodgers sign a similar player months ago to help provide a modicrum of improvement and to clear payroll for Vlad Guerrero. So much for that part of the plan.)

But Lee's an interesting player.

Lee was drafted by the Twins in the first round of the '96 draft, a polished hitter out of San Diego State University and considered the top amateur baseball player in the country. But contract issues kept him from signing with the Twins, and instead signed later that year with the Diamondbacks as a free agent.

The next year, he started his professional career at the age of 22 in A ball hitting .363/.473/.690 (.385 GPA) in 61 games, and bypassing AA altogether, was "loaned" to the Brewers' AAA affiliate where to continued to mash without missing a beat hitting .300/.387/.573 (.317 GPA) in 59 games. In other words, he quickly proved he could work the count and hit the bejesus out of the ball.

Fortunately, the Diamondbacks got him back for the '98 season, and he had a promising rookie campaign: .269/.346/.429 (.263 GPA) in 140 games.

Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there.

Without any warning, Lee seriously regressed in '99, hitting .237/.337/.363 (.242 GPA) in 120 games.

He started the millenium pretty much where he left off (.232/.308/.397) before given a new home as part of the package of Diamondbacks sent to the Phillies mid-season in exchange for Curt Schilling.

New city, same disappointments:

'00 .239/.381/.328 (.253 GPA)
'01 .258/.341/.434 (.262 GPA)
'02 .265/.331/.394 (.247 GPA)

When Philadelphia invested big free agent money to sign the kind of player Lee was supposed to be but wasn't in '03, the now 28-year-old Lee signed a one year deal with the Rays.

The weird thing about Lee's regression and then stagnation is that it defies almost all analysis. He wasn't injured. He didn't lose command of the strike zone. Like Jeremy Giambi, his failed developed is still the cause of considerable debate.

Lee clearly had a career year with the Rays last year, and looking back at BP's PETCO 2003 predictions, he pushed pretty much near the limit of what could reasonably expected of him as a major leaguer.

Will he match that .271 GPA again in '04? Maybe.

But then again maybe Tino might too.

The Rays are only paying $1.5M of Tino's $8M contract this year.

Anything more than that for Lee clearly isn't worthwhile.

All of this is, of course, ridiculous. Aubrey Huff should be the opening day first baseman. And that, you're right, is the true sign of LaMar's incompetence.

1>3

Take a look at these three lines from three different LH 1st basemen:

#1) .273/.352/.429 (GPA .265)
#2) .269/.335/.418 (GPA .255)
#3) .249/.322/.428 (GPA .252)

Now take a look at this line also from a LH 1st baseman:

#4) .275/.348/.459 (GPA .271)

Hypothetically, if I was to say you could have any one of these 1st baseman for your team and that #4 was younger and also a better defender than candidates 1-3, who would you take? "Number 4", you say? Well gold star for you, but the Tampa Bay Devil Rays have decided to load up their dump truck with Tino Martinez (#1), Robert Fick(#2), and Fred McGriff(#3) and let Travis Lee(#4) walk.

This seems counterproductive, nay, insane to me for several reasons.

Firstly, Travis Lee is better. He's an excellent defender and his hitting numbers speak for themselves. While he's still below the GPA average (.279) for 1st baseman he's better than the three other guys and at 28 it's still possible his numbers might improve. McGriff and Martinez are decidedly in the decline mode of their careers and Fick, while only one year older than Lee, has seen his OPS drop for three consecutive seasons (.816/.764/.753).

Secondly, he'd be cheaper. The D-Rays and Lee both declined their mutual option for 2004 which would have paid him 2.5 million and then Tampa did not offer him arbitration. I kind of see why they didn't want to pay him 2.5 million but why not go to arbitration with him? How much would a 1st baseman who hit .275 with 19 homers make in arbitration? It's hard to say exactly, but Nick Johnson who hit .284 with 14 homers last year, and had a much higher OBP than Lee, ended up getting 1.25 million in his arbitration case with the Expos. I think you could expect Lee to get about the same or possibly a little more given his defensive reputation. Certainly that's not a bad deal considering Tampa Bay will sink somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 million dollars collectively for Fick, Martinez, and McGriff*. Worst case scenario, they have to pay him 2.5 million, highly unlikely in this depressed FA market, they'll still come out with a little more cheese than they would have otherwise. Maybe the fact that Scott Boras is Lee's agent scared the D-Rays enough that they decided to take a pass? I hope that's not the reason.

Thirdly, for a team that is supposed to be focusing on developing its younger talent in hopes of competing a few years down the road it seems odd to have three veterans take roster spots that could go to younger players. I'd rather consolidate the production that you will get from those three players with the singing of just one player, Lee, and give two of your better prospects the chance to get some MLB experience. Isn't that what Lou Pinella's strength is supposed to be? Teaching younger players how to play the game? Isn't it wasted on guys like Robert Fick, Tino Martinez, and Fred McGriff? Make use of Lou's talents I say. Get full value for your managerial dollar.

I seem to recall that there may have been some talk of an attitude problem with Lee or maybe he was in Lou's dog house (maybe I'm getting him confused with Ben Grieve) at some point for some reason but come on, this is the same team that picked-up Julio Lugo and this is also the team that gave John Rocker his last brew-ha-ha in the majors. Perhaps Chuck LaMar felt the team need "veteran leadership" in the form of Tino Martinez but again, isn't that what Lou Pinella is there for?

To add to the insanity of this move is the fact that Tampa Bay's best hitter, and one of the league's most under-rated, Aubrey Huff is going to be caught up somewhere in a 1B/DH/OF shuffle because of all of this. Given he had his best year year playing in the OF and he was able to play all 162 games for the first time in his career, I think he's earned the right to stay in the OF or at least be given a stable position. The sane thing, especially after deciding to let Lee go, would have been to have just given him the 1st base job outright. He also used to be a 3rd baseman, albeit not a great one, putting him there where he'll be an offensive plus and a defensive negative makes more sense than moving him around all the time as well. It makes even more sense considering the derth of quality 3rd baseman there are in MLB. (GPA average at 3rd base is .251. Huff's GPA this season was .304.) Tampa's current best option there is Geoff Blum. For the record, I say Huff should remain in the OF. Sorry, Carl Crawford.

Perhaps the fact that Lee is not a native Floridian (he's from Cali) hurt his chances of staying with Tampa Bay given their apparent love affair with home-grown products like Tino Martinez and Fred McGriff. While I feel the D-Rays are moving generally in the right direction, their off-season moves remind me of the "Sporting News Cover" era when Tampa Bay signed Greg Vaughn, Vinny Castilla, Jose Canseco, and yes, Fred McGriff and they subsequently appeared together on the cover of TSN's 2000 baseball preview issue. I hope Chuck LaMar realizes that it wasn't a good idea then and it's a worse idea now. (That team finished 69-92.) Which leads me to another question: How the hell has LaMar held on to his job for eight seasons? No, really.

Now it looks like the Yankees have serious interest in Lee. ("Can you play 3rd base Travis?") I'm not sure why since they have already signed Tony Clark, but Lee will make a better replacement than Clark whenever Giambi is relegated to DH or the DL with that bad knee of his.

I still think Tampa Bay has a decent shot of finishing 4th in the AL EAST this year, mainly because all of Baltimore's high-profile off-season signings did nothing to address how crap their pitching actually is.

* This takes into consideration that the St.Louis Cardinals are paying most of Tino Martinez's remaining salary and is also contingent on Fred McGriff making the team since he was just signed to a minor-league deal.

THANKS: I just wanted to thank Will Carroll and Doug Pappas who helped me clarify the Travis Lee arbitration situation. To sum up, since Lee made only 500,000 last year, the 20% cut rule wouldn't apply and the D-Rays would only have to pay him whatever the arbitrator determined he was worth.

UPDATE: It looks like Chuck LaMar will be doing an online chat today at 3pm (ET). I'll try to ask him about this situation and why he chose not to hang on to Travis Lee. Yeah, I know, fat chance.

LAMAR CHAT UPDATE: To my great shock and surprise, I wasn't able to get a question through to Chuck LeMar despite my numerous attempts. I also tried to ask him about not giving Huff a stable position but to no avail. The only relevant information I could gleam from the chat, and I'm sort of paraphrasing here becuase I don't want to incur the rath of MLB's copyright police, is in relation to his off-season signings LeMar used the word, "makeup", which should really tell you all you need to know about why they passed on Travis Lee in favour of Tino Martinez and company. "Yeah, that Manny Ramirez can hit but he's got a horrible makeup." Yeah? So?

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