Goatriders of the Apocalypse

2009 Recap: Derrek Lee

Derrek Lee
Or: The One Where We Gloat a Little

Cub fans are so fickle.  Derrek Lee spent the majority of the '08 season -- and the '07 one, for that matter -- delivering quality defensive plays coupled with the occasional offensive burst, resulting in statistics that probably placed him at just above the middle of the pack.  And yet Cub fans wanted to ice him.  Especially after the '08 campaign, in which he grounded into a ridiculous number of double plays -- as if that was some kind of empirical data that proved he was on a rapid statistical decline.

What was true about '07 and '08 D.Lee was that he shouldn't have been batting third in the lineup.  His numbers were more those of a #5 or even a #6 hitter -- 20-odd homeruns, 30-odd doubles, good AVG, good OBP, the Pre-'09 Lee was born to protect. 

Worse, we wanted to be rid of him in favor of a guy who was the picture of a journeyman minor leaguer, Micah Hoffpauir.  The Hoff came along and had a ridiculous '08 season -- at the age of 28, and in his third attempt at Triple A -- and, thanks to one game in which he hit 2 homeruns, his numbers in 73 at bats in '08 weren't bad at the major league level either.  Factor in Lee's 8-figure contract and his 27 double plays, and that was all she wrote from the fans' perspective.

Thank God Cub fans do not run the organization.  Now, the ironic thing was that, in calling for his dismissal, some fans actually were suggesting that the Cubs could deal him to San Diego (Lee would probably enjoy playing there, despite having once engaged in fisticuffs with a pitcher from that team) for their younger, less expensive, more talented first baseman.  It's sort of like how Boston beat writers used to lambaste Ted Williams before suggesting he be dealt to New York for Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra. 

But while Hoffpauir shockingly* struggled in '09, Derrek Lee had the second best season of his career.  Lee delivered 35 homeruns - the second most for him ever - 111 RBI - a career best on a team with a struggling offense - 36 doubles, and he batted .306 - third best for him - with a second-best .972 OPS. 

(*may be dripping with sarcasm)

In other words, wow.  It's too bad Lee wasted such a great season on such a mediocre Cubs team, but at least he was surrounded by better players than in '05 when he should have won the MVP award. 

Does that mean, then, that fans will be calling for his trade this winter?  So far not yet.  Yet this is probably the time to make that trade if it's at all possible.  Lee has only one year left on his current contract, he will not match his totals from '09, and odds are he will also not be brought back due to his age.  If -- big if -- the Cubs can capitalize on his current value, perhaps they should consider swinging a deal.

Still, despite his success this past season Lee probably doesn't have a ton of trade value, and he continues to hold the ace-up-his-sleeve of the no-trade clause.  Therefore, it's safe to say that my wife's most-beloved Cub will be back for one more year.  Odds are, he will not hit 30 homeruns, or drive in 100 runs.  But if he can provide reliable defense and consistently put the ball into play, then he'll be worth his contract -- and he'll also be a hell of an improvement on the no-names who followed Mark Grace and proceeded Lee back in 2004.

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my stance on Lee then, and now

I do not believe I was amongst those who wanted him traded. I did say he was overrated, and overpaid, and going into 2009, I believed that Hofpauir would produce just as well, if not better, than Lee.

But it was also common knowledge that Lee was the closest thing there is to a "leadership" figure on the team. I thought, and still think, that the best thing would be for Ramirez to grow into that role. But no, it's Lee. I thought, and still believe, that Lee is too laid-back to be the Leader of the Team that Finally Wins It All.

He's a fine human being, and this year, was by far our best player. I am very happy he is finally healthy, and apparently at peace with his daughter's long-term health prognosis. On perhaps any other team, Derrek Lee would be a fine candidate to perch on the Leadership mantle. He is calm, collected, steadying, talented, which are all great traits.

I hope he retires a Cub. At the same time, someone else needs to step up; someone hungry, somebody ruthless, to lead this team out of the wilderness.

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