Memo to Chris Antonetti: Go Get Carlos Lee

I called for Carlos Lee all winter long. The answer to the left field problem just spent the last two days raking Tribe pitching.  This was a guy in the last year of a bad contract, with a proven track record, who hits right-handed with power, and can play outfield or first base. The Astros reportedly wanted to all but give him away, but decided on keeping him to play first base. His $18 million salary for a team that was completely rebuilding just didn’t fit. It was thought that the Indians had kicked the tires on him during the winter, but nothing ever came of it. So they moved on.

Yes, Lee has been playing first base and isn’t exactly a gold glover in the outfield, but nobody could be that much worse than Johnny Damon defensively. I know, I know – El Caballo isn’t hitting lefties well this season (.146), but for his career, Lee is at .290/.347/.834. In 2012 as a whole, the 36-year old is hitting .303/.356/.769 with 28 RBIs hitting cleanup for one of the worst offenses in the game. You’d have to say that is a mild improvement over the Damon/Shelley Duncan experiment.

Lee can be plugged right into the left field spot while being rotated in at first base and designated hitter. With the White Sox striking first by adding Kevin Youkilis to play third base, the Indians know they have cannot stand pat with what they currently have. I don’t want anyone to get all twisted and bent out of shape because the White Sox got Youk. This is Kevin Youkilis version 2012, not version 2007 that the Indians (and the rest of baseball for that matter), couldn’t get out. He has a bad back and his numbers have steadily dropped over the past two and a half seasons.

As the great Jon Steiner said in a tweet dripping with sarcasm last night:

Anytime u can trade for a .233/.315/.699 $13 million defensive liability, you pretty much have do it. Them’s LOU MARSON numbers.

The Indians may have checked in on Youkilis, but I truly believe that passing on him was the absolute right move. Third base is covered with the Lonnie Chisenhall/Jack Hannahan/Jose Lopez triumvirate. Casey Kotchman (.230/.289./6 HR/27 RBI/213 ABs) is essentially Youk (.233/.315/4 HR/14 RBIs/146 ABs) while playing gold-glove caliber defense and doesn’t cost the Indians anything. Youkilis’s numbers are actually worse than Damon’s since JD joined the Wigwam. Sure, he may come back out and play angry, but his body is broken.

Lee is the guy the Indians should target. He had four hits and two RBIs in the last two games of the series. It could be a preview of what’s to come in Cleveland. Actually, it should be. The sooner, the better. My guess is it will all come down to how much money the Indians are willing to eat of the approximately $9 million remaining on his deal for 2012.

Image Source: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    In the OF seriously did you notice how large Caballo has gotten? Damon can’t throw but can run Lee probably can throw but can’t run, perfect platoon! Also I’d be careful using the Indians pitching as a barometer for the future. Just because Lee had some hits to end the series doesn’t mean a thing. That being said he’d be an improvement over Kotchman unfortunately a few years, dollars and donuts to late IMO.

  • boomhauertjs

    The Tribe could’ve had right handed Cody Ross (.277, 11 HRs) for half ($3 million) of what they’re paying Grady and Damon.

  • john

    You really wrote a whole post on Lee without looking up that he has a partial no-trade clause and wants to finish his career in Houston?

  • nj0

    Lee agreed to waive his 10-and-5 rights in exchange for full no-trade protection during the first four years of his contract. He can still block trades to 14 unknown teams this year. It is rumored that Cleveland is not on the list.

  • nj0

    I can’t think of a facet of an idividual Indians’ game that is more overrated by the populace at large than Kotchman’s “Gold Glove caliber” defense?

  • MrCleaveland

    Is it better to have a crummy right-handed hitter than no right-handed hitter at all? I guess it would be if the left-handed hitter that the crummy right-handed hitter would be replacing is also crummy. So by God, let’s go for it!

  • not shocked

    The groundball pitchers strongly disagree. There have been a lot of bad throws from the left side of the infield that he has turned into outs

  • aaron

    who for some reason gets no love. was one of the better hitters down the stretch for the Giants when they won the World Series. Would’ve looked great with a chief wahoo on his cap. also think the term mendonza line needs modernized. the duncan-line? the damon-line? the cunningham-line? too many options to pick one

  • nj0

    Every metric I see puts him below replacement level this year. Even if you believe he is better in ways that those don’t measure, saying he’s GG-caliber is a stretch imo.

  • Harv 21

    go get him is a nice proactive philosophy, but at what price? Houston only wants good young players for their tear down/rebuild, and most of our decent ones are already helping us this season. For just a half season of Lee, are you willing to empty the rest of the cupboard and give up Chiz and Hagadone? McAllister and Chen Lee? Francisco Lindor? Houston wil have other bidders, and they won’t need to settle for Cord Phelps and a bag of balls.

  • nj0

    We might be able to get Lee cheap (in terms of prospects) if we take on a substantial portion of his salary. Of course other interested teams might offer better prospects with less cash. Then it depends on how Houston wants to play it.
    I agree with your general point – saying “go get ’em” is one thing. Making it happen while not getting fleeced is another.

  • Steve

    First base (and catcher) are tough positions for fielding metrics to properly evaluate. It’s less diving for balls, and more scoops on errant throws from your overrated shortstop

  • Steve

    How dare you question the whiny fans here? Everyone knows that the only reason we wouldn’t get a fantastic, difference-making, bat is because Dolan is the worst person on the planet

  • CSTDoug

    Addendum to the memo: Please don’t sell fans the bill of goods that is Hafner and/or Sizemore coming back and making a bit of difference to this roster.

  • nj0

    I realize that which is why I phrased my last sentence the way I did.

    In stuff the metrics do measure, he’s generally below replacement level.

    Considering those limitations, I don’t think being great at those other things raise him up to the level of an elite defensive 1B. Since we’re talking about things that are difficult if not impossible to measure, this is obviously just my opinion.
    Also, GGs are stupid anyway.

  • Steve

    Ok, so I looked. Even if half a season was enough of a sample size (people say it needs 3 seasons to properly calibrate defensive metrics), he’s 1 run above average by bb-ref’s numbers, and 2.4 below average by fangraphs. That is definitely above replacement level. Looking at the last three years, he seems to be average in those things that metrics actually measure.

  • nj0

    BR has his dWAR at -1.1 over the last three years.

    FG has his UZR at -3.9 over the same.

    Not saying he’s terrible, just don’t think he’s elite.

  • mgbode

    how many MLB players have 14 teams they would rather not play for more than the Indians. let alone a NLer. if true, then it means all is destined 🙂

  • mgbode

    hafner has given 90+ games/year with an OPS+ of 125 in his injury seasons. it’s not what we signed him to do, but it is very usable (and about what wilingham has done the past 3 years too)

  • mgbode

    we just let the astros be the next team that “got hot” against our pitching.

    might think about trading for an arm first.

  • Steve

    BB-ref’s dWAR gives a penalty to the easier positions to play, and a bonus to the tougher ones so that we can compare across positions. You want to look at Rfield if you want to see how many runs he was better or worse than league average.

  • nj0

    Good to know. Thanks.