Is There a Trade Market for Carlos Lee?

Last Saturday, Jon Heyman mused via Twitter that he hadn’t yet seen any trade interest develop in Astros’ first baseman/outfielder Carlos Lee. The tone of Heyman’s tweet was one of surprise; he noted “Guy did have 90-plus rbis for awful team.”

Putting aside Heyman’s reliance on RBI to make his point, the question remains. Is there a trade market for Carlos Lee? He will turn 36 next June and is in the last year of six-year/$100 million contract with the Astros. According to Cot’s Contracts, the Astros still owe Lee $19 million.

The key to a Lee trade, of course, will be the Astros’ willingness to absorb a substantial amount of Lee’s remaining salary. Although Lee posted a 3.2 WAR in 2011, and was thus valued by FanGraphs as worth $14.5 million, much of that WAR total was supported by good defensive ratings in left field that many find hard to believe. Before 2011, Lee hadn’t posted a positive UZR for his play in left field since his 2004 season with the White Sox.

First base is another story, and good one. In the last two seasons, Lee’s played just under 800 innings at first, and has posted a cumulative UZR of 4.9. That ranks him seventh among all National Leaguers who’ve logged more than 650 innings at first base over the course of the 2010 and 2011 seasons combined.

Most of Lee’s value, of course, comes from his offensive production. Lee bounced back offensively in 2011 after a down year in 2010, although the big power numbers Lee displayed in mid-2000′s are all but gone. His slash over the last three seasons is .274/.325/.451 with a wOBA of .334 and a wRC+ of 107. His 3-year wOBA ranks him 30th among qualified National League outfielders. Among qualified National League first basemen, he would rank 14th, above only James Loney and Jorge Cantu.

I’ve seen tweets suggesting Lee as a fit for the Atlanta Braves or the Cleveland Indians. The Indians make a great deal of sense. The Braves, not so much.

The Braves are set at first with Freddie Freeman, so Lee likely would play most of the time in left field. Martin Prado was the Braves main left fielder in 2011 with back up from Eric Hinske, Jose Constanza and Matt Diaz. All four players are due back with the Braves in 2012. Prado did have a down year in 2011 as he battled injuries. But as my colleague Jason Roberts wrote last month, there are good reasons to believe that Prado will bounce back offensively in 2012.

The real issue with Lee on the Braves is defense. Of the Braves’ expected starting pitchers in 2012, only Tim Hudson has a ground ball rate higher than 42%. That means a lot of fly balls to left field that need to be tracked down and caught. Prado is good at that. Hinske is serviceable at that. Lee –despite his high UZR in 2011 — is not particularly good at that.

The Indians, on the other hand, could use more offensive production at first base where Lee is a pretty good fielder. Matt LaPorta took the laboring oar at first for the Indians in 2011, playing a bit more than 800 innings. Catcher Carlos Santana platooned with LaPorta at first, logging 565 innings.  But Santana is principally a catcher and was played at first to keep his bat in the lineup when he needed a rest from catching. And his bat was needed because LaPorta posted a paltry .247/.299/.412 with a wOBA of just .309 and wRC+ of 93.  The Indians are considering giving Michael Brantley a look at first base, but that doesn’t solve any offensive problems. Brantley’s wOBA and wRC+ in 2011 were exactly the same as LaPorta’s.

LaPorta also has much room for improvement defensively at first. In his 800-plus innings at first in 2011, he recorded -7 Defensive Runs Saved, a .787 RZR and a UZR of -5.9.  The only American League first baseman who rated worse in all three defensive metrics was Eric Hosmer of the Kansas City Royals.

Even at 36, Lee would be an upgrade for the Indians at first base, both offensively and defensively. The Astros have a lot of players making league minimum in 2012, giving them some financial flexibility to continue paying Lee’s salary for the right combination of prospects coming back from the Indians. The deal makes sense for both teams.

Print This Post

Wendy is also a contributing writer for Sports on Earth. Her writing has appeared on, Baseball Nation, Bay Area Sports Guy, The Score, The Classical and San Francisco Magazine. Wendy practiced law for 18 years before beginning her writing career. You can find her work at and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.

16 Responses to “Is There a Trade Market for Carlos Lee?”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Ian R. says:

    The other key to a successful Lee trade, of course, is Carlos’ willingness to waive his no-trade clause. Last I heard, he had no interest in leaving Houston because of his ranching interests in the area. I imagine he might like to go to a contending team in what will probably be his last MLB season, but if he’s not convinced the Indians can contend, I don’t see how this deal would get done.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • CJ in Austin TX says:

      Carlos Lee has a partial no trade clause in his contract for 2012. (He bargained away his 5 & 10 no trade protection.) We don’t know what teams are on the no trade list, but rumor has it that it’s mostly AL teams because he doesn’t want to DH. That said, there are some teams that he can be traded to without his approval; we just don’t know which ones.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • OremLK says:

        I would certainly veto Cleveland if I were him, and not for baseball reasons.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Josh says:

        He bargained his 5 and 10 away? Is that even possible? Can you confirm that via any link?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • AA says:

        There is nothing to suggest he gave up 10/5 rights – I don’t actually think you can bargain those away. That is a CBA provision, not an individual player contract provision

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Eric R says:

        If Beltran can work a ‘you can’t offer me arbitration’ clause into his contract, I don’t see how Lee couldn’t have put a clause in his contract that states ‘you can trade me to one of these X teams without my consent regardless of my 10/5 status’.

        Or maybe more specifically, at the time of the contract maybe he gave his consent to be traded to a list of teams in writing that the team can use at any time during the contract. IE he is still 10/5, where he can’t be traded without consent, but he already gave his consent in writing for particular teams.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • CJ in Austin TX says:

        I don’t have time to find the link. It was reported by Zachary Levine and Chip Bailey in the Houston Chronicle on-line ( in the off-season prior to 2011. As you can see from Cot’s, Lee’s full no trade clause ended in 2010. The Astros and Lee agreed to a partial no trade clause for 2011-12, despite the fact that he becomes eligible for 5 & 10 rights in 2012.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Matt K says:

    good point Ian. sense or no sense, he probably wouldn’t accept a trade to the indians (unless they’re somehow miraculously winning the division at the trade deadline, and Lee wants to go to the playoffs).

    Also, as surprising as his UZR is, look up his highlights for 2011 on mlb, and you’d be surprised at all the defensive highlights he has, especially in the OF.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. CJ in Austin TX says:

    I have watched almost all of Lee’s games, and I think he had a great deal of improvement as a defender in LF in 2011. Lee showed up in 2011 with less weight and an apparent willingness to play harder. (Consider the fact that Carlos Lee led the Astros in triples with 4, in 2011–that’s the most triples in his career.) Lee has always been good at playing angles off the wall, but he improved both in hustling and throwing the ball (10 assists in LF, the second best of his career, even though he only played 30% – 40% of his games at 1st base). I’m not sure whether Lee was really as good on defense in 2011 as UZR (and DRS and TZ) indicates, but I do think his improvement was real.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Ichiro says:

    If I ever saw myself saying I’m excited going to Cleveland, I’d punch myself in the face, because I’m lying.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Rufio Magillicutty says:

    Why even have UZR if everybody just defaults to intuition to suit one’s convenience. IMO even having the statistic is a bit of an embarrassment.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. mrkwst22 says:


    Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. Fieryfurnaces says:

    I don’t actually believe the ‘Stros are interested in trading Lee. No one will give them anything of value unless they pay all his salary. And Lee can still hit thank you. Maybe at the deadline you get something.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Eddie says:

    Is there a trade market for Alfonso Soriano?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. Aaron says:

    That’s the problem. No one wants to go to Cleveland, and they can’t afford anyone anyway.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current day month ye@r *