Should Anyone Sign Derrek Lee?

Derrek Lee hasn’t retired just yet. According to Ken Rosenthal, Lee is looking to play during the upcoming season, but he’s looking for the “right opportunity.” Lee struggled early on last season, but managed to turn his season around upon being traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates — albeit, in a very small sample. Still, Lee’s resurgence with Pittsburgh hasn’t led to a ton of offers. Given the current state of the position, Lee probably shouldn’t be selective about his opportunities.

Lee’s overall performance was poor last season, but he wasn’t completely useless. Lee’s slash line of .267/.325/.446 was pretty comparable to the average first basemen’s slash line of .263/.338/.439. Being an average first baseman isn’t particularly impressive, but Lee also carries some defensive value, which should make him slightly more appealing to teams. Teams shouldn’t necessarily be excited to employ Lee full-time anymore, but he does at least have some value.

Lee only seems to want to play in certain situations, however. Based on his performance last season, he’s not in a position to start making demands. Back in December, Lee allegedly turned down a deal from the San Diego Padres that was worth more than $8 million. It’s no surprise that the Padres traded for Yonder Alonso that same month.
As one of the readers pointed out in the comments, I misread the date on this article. Lee did, however, turn down an arbitration offer from the Pirates earlier this off-season.

Problem is, there aren’t a lot of jobs available for first basemen. As Matt Klaassen’s Positional Power Rankings article showed, even the low ranking teams are relatively set at the position.

The teams Matt ranked the lowest — the Seattle Mariners and the San Diego Padres — both have young prospects in Justin Smoak and the aforementioned Alonso. The Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles had Lee last season, but seem to be heading in a different direction this year. And the Houston Astros and Colorado Rockies have expensive veterans at those positions. The Washington Nationals, meanwhile, already have both Adam LaRoche and Michael Morse, both of whom are capable of playing first.

That leaves three teams in the bottom ten where Lee could fit in — the Oakland Athletics, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Toronto Blue Jays.

Lee actually stacks up pretty favorably when compared to the A’s main options at first base.

Derrek Lee R 0.260 0.328 0.433
Daric Barton L 0.241 0.351 0.359
Brandon Allen L 0.212 0.310 0.375

ZiPS projects Lee to have a much higher batting average and slugging percentage than either Daric Barton or Brandon Allen this season. But while it’s tempting to look at the difference in slugging percentage and think Lee will be miles better than either guy, there’s no telling how much Oakland’s park would suppress his numbers. Oakland also has Chris Carter coming up and looking for playing time, and that could affect whether they’ll want to sign Lee. Carter has some flaws, but his power potential is tempting and he comes pretty cheap. There’s also the issue of whether Lee wants to play for the A’s. If he’s looking to win or make a significant amount of money, Oakland is not his team.

James Loney has been a bit of a punch line among certain analysts, but he performed better than Lee last season. Based on the ZiPS projections for this season, that trend might continue.

Derrek Lee R 0.260 0.328 0.433
James Loney L 0.277 0.334 0.407

Once again, the only area where Lee is projected to do better is slugging percentage. The difference isn’t drastic, and Loney could make up the different with his solid defense. While it looked like Loney could have been a candidate to be non-tendered this off-season, the Dodgers decided to stand by him for at least another year. Whether or not he deserves it, the Dodgers seem committed to him at this time. Considering Lee might not be a significant upgrade, that might have been the better move.

It’s unclear whether the Blue Jays would be willing to pull the plug on Adam Lind, but Toronto might not be a terrible destination for Lee.

Derrek Lee R 0.260 0.328 0.433
Adam Lind L 0.264 0.315 0.466

Lind definitely has power, but it’s come with terrible on-base percentages the past two seasons. He also regarded as a below-average fielder. Unless Lind is able to turn back the clock to 2009, Lee might be an upgrade here. With the extra Wild Card team this season, Toronto’s chances of making the playoffs are definitely better. That could entice Lee to sign with them if they decide to offer him a contract.

The only other team on the list that hasn’t already signed someone this off-season — and where Lee represents a potential upgrade — is the Texas Rangers. Again, though, it’s tough to argue Lee would be much better than Mitch Moreland. And he also comes much cheaper than Lee. With Mike Napoli still recovering from an ankle injury, he could see more time at first, so the team may not want to sign another first baseman.

Derrek Lee doesn’t have a lot of options. There aren’t many teams in the market for first basemen, and the teams that might consider Lee don’t have much incentive to pay him much more than their internal options. The only team that might make sense for Lee is the Blue Jays. It’s unclear whether Lee would want to relocate to Canada to continue his playing career, but he’s not in a situation where he can really start dictating his playing situation. Unless he lowers his demands, a return to the majors seems unlikely.

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Chris is a blogger for He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

35 Responses to “Should Anyone Sign Derrek Lee?”

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  1. Ender says:

    I thought he would be a good fit for the Brewers as Insurance in case Gamel struggles or can’t hit lefties. He obviously is asking too much for something like that to work out though and Roenicke is the type that would probably play him too much and stunt Gamel’s growth so I’m glad they didn’t sign him.

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  2. Sandy Kazmir says:

    I think there’s a place for him on the Rays. Carlos Pena has looked worse and worse against lefties over the last several years and he’s not alone as Matt Joyce and Luke Scott are no great shakes against same-handers either. The Rays could use a bench bat righty that can fill in at 1B and DH while being humble about his role. A 1B/DH platoon of Pena/Scott/DLee could go a long way towards keeping all three players healthy and put each in a role that best allows them to succeed. It also gives Joe Maddon some alternatives late in the game that can actually hit unlike Elliot Johnson, Reid Brignac, Jose Lobaton, or even Sam Fuld who would be the best of the bunch of these four, but still a lefty.

    It makes sense for both sides for Lee to sign a MiLB deal with plenty of incentives tied to performance and appearance. Lee gets one last run for a ring and the Rays get a guy that can handle lefties relatively well and “does all the right things” in the clubhouse by all accounts.

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  3. Dave S says:

    I still think the Phils should have signed him, rather than Nix AND Thome.

    He covers 1b until Howard returns. Then he’s the platoon RHB and defensive replacement for Howard.

    Too easy? Cost too much?

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    • evan says:

      probably too much + not a full season of full time work. Plus, doesn’t Nix play more than 1b? Thome sure doesn’t but Thome will pinch hit (albeit, poorly). Still, would have been handy to have extra Lee on the team. (wah-wah)

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      • LTG says:

        Not sure why one would think Thome will be a bad pinch hitter. His hitting has remained good as he’s aged. He was, for example, a better hitter than Ryan Howard last year according to wRC+. His walk rate was better and his K-rate and ISO were almost the same. That looks like a promising bat off the bench, which is not to say that he is a promising replacement for Howard.

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  4. JDanger says:

    I’d be willing to bet that “right opportunity” means not being a pinch-hitter, which is the only thing he could be once Howard returns.

    I’ve been keeping my eye on this for the entire off-season, and I have to admit I am confused by it. Perhaps I’ve seen too much of Derrek Lee in his prime to be able to accept that his career may be over, but I’m shocked that there isn’t at least more interest in him.

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  5. Luke says:

    “Back in December, Lee allegedly turned down a deal from the San Diego Padres that was worth more than $8 million. It’s no surprise that the Padres traded for Yonder Alonso that same month.”

    I was sceptical of this at first given that the Padres had both Antony Rizzo, Kyle Blanks and Jesus Guzman in the system at first base. I was right to be sceptical – if you check the source it says that news is from 2011-01-06. That’s for the 2011 season, not the 2012 season when they did trade Latos for 4 players including Yonder Alonso.

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  6. Geoff says:

    I don’t see the Jays supplanting Lind for Lee. Lind was actually hitting the ball pretty well in the first half of the season last year (he was .300/.349/.519 on July 20th). I’d rather stick with him and hope he can find a semblance of his 2009 self.

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  7. Colin says:

    The real unfortunate thing for Lee was that he turned down arbitration from Pittsburgh. I have to imagine that the deal he would’ve gotten in arbitration would’ve been substantially higher than anything he could possibly get now. Granted, he would’ve had to stay in Pittsburgh, which I guess he didn’t want to do, but he still left a lot of money on the table.

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    • Schide says:

      Pirates fans hope he signs somewhere, because the Pirates still should get a supplemental pick if he does. I have no idea when the deadline for him to sign for something like that would be though.

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    • gonfalon says:

      Lee made $7.25M in 2011, so by declining arbitration he turned down at least $8M, which is more than 100 times what I’ll make this year. It must be nice to be able to decline that kind of money.

      But if he’d accepted arbitration, that would have meant he’d have to play 1B for the Pirates, which is apparently beneath him.

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  8. Even ignoring his defensive value, Lee would be a significant upgrade over the rotation the Tigers are planning to use at DH this year. Dirks, Kelly, and Delmon look to get the majority of starts.

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  9. Pat says:

    He could still have value but he seems like he turned into a little crybaby ever since he got traded from his beloved Cubs. I feel like the only way he would come back is if he were offered the 1B job again in Chicago which isn’t going to happen.

    I was really hoping he’d sign somewhere so Pittsburgh can get the extra draft pick but if he’d really turn down 8M to play here, that’s a slap in the face. He can have fun hanging out with Roy Oswalt while they talk about how great they’d be this year if someone would have given them a shot.

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    • npmiller28 says:

      Why not the Cubs? Before reading this, that’s the team I thought would be his best fit. He and Bryan LaHair share time while Rizzo spends a year at AAA. LaHair can play OF too.

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  10. dave says:

    Derrek Lee has a history of being pretty picky when it comes to where he plays. In 2010, he refused a trade to the Dodgers only to accept one to the Braves a few weeks early. It is his right in free agency (as it was when he was 5 and 10) to choose a team that where he wants to play. Unfortunately for him as an older players with fading skills who wants big money and is limited on where he wants to play, he may end up turning into the next Jermaine Dye.

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    • BassmanUW says:

      My understanding is that this was more due to timing than anything else. Lee’s wife and kids spent the summers with him in Chicago, and then went to wherever he lives in the offseason (I think in southern California) when school started up. My recollection is that he didn’t want to change teams until his kids were going to be leaving Chicago anyways, not that he specifically did not want to play for the Dodgers.

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  11. kylejo says:

    Texas really seems like the best fit to me. Why not employ a platoon of Moreland and Lee early, and if Lee proves he still has something left in the tank give him more playing time. Moreland is a below average fielder while Lee is steady and dependable. Texas has the cash, and the desire to win.

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    • chuckb says:

      They already employ Michael Young, who’s a DH/1B. How many roster spots can a team tie up in platoon 1B?

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  12. JayTeam says:

    “he’s not in a position to start making demands”

    According to BBRef, Lee has earned over $91 million during his career. So he certainly should be in a financial position to be making demands.

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    • JasonS says:

      You’d have thought 200 million would have been enough for Iverson to live off of too. You never know how financially sound the players are.

      Granted, Lee seems a lot of sensible than Iverson, but you never know.

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  13. Brian says:

    I could see the Twins picking him up if Morneau has more concussion issues. Right now, they have Doumit, Mauer, and Morneau sharing C/1B/DH.

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  14. Ty says:

    “there’s no telling how much Oakland’s park would suppress his numbers.”

    This seems like something we can pretty easily estimate with park factors, dimensions, etc.

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    • Fiery Furnaces says:

      Actually park factors tend to be pretty conservative. Oaktown & Seattle are exactly the type of places that would destroy Lee’s worthwhileness.

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  15. kick me in the GO NATS says:

    Lee would be wise to call the Pirates. They have at least an outside chance at the postseason and they need his skills.

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  16. pft says:

    Based on what I saw last year with Baltimore he is finished. It wasn’t just the poor results, he looked awful. No bat speed.

    Of course, he finished the season hot with the Pirates, so maybe he is just more comfortable in the NL.

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    • Undocorkscrew says:

      He had a poor year with the Cubs in 2010 and hit pretty well after coming to Atlanta. Maybe he should just sit and wait until the trade deadline to sign?

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  17. Cidron says:

    Paging Mr Derek Lee..

    There is a Mr Jermiane Dye on the phone asking if you want to come over to watch some baseball with him, if you have the time.

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  18. ubastratofan says:

    I think Lee would fit in well with the Indians who really need a 1B. I know we have LaPorta, but learning from Lee could really benefit him; heck, it couldn’t hurt at this point I would say.

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  19. Nolan says:

    I think teams are concerned about how the giant fork sticking out of his back will affect his play.

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  20. D Brown says:

    It’s not money, teams interested, or opportunity that is holding Lee back. family illness/personal issues.

    Life isn’t all about money or squeezing out that last year of a career.

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  21. Cidron says:

    How often is it that the last person to know their sports career is over is the athelete in question. Case in point, Mr Derrek Lee

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