The increasingly hapless Chicago Cubs traded first baseman Derrek Lee to the Atlanta Braves for three prospects yesterday, and while it’s nice to know his middling-to-bad statistics and large contract are off the books, it’s sad to see one of my favorite players of the last decade leave, because until this year, he’s put up some big numbers and been one of the most likable Cubs since being traded to the team before the 2004 season.
I understand baseball — hell, all of sports — is a “what have you done for me lately” business, and Lee’s .251 average, .335 on-base percentage, and .751 OPS have all been substandard this year. However, I can’t stop thinking about the 2004 season when he started the year slumping horribly, then lit up scoreboards from June on, or the entire 2005 season when his MVP-like numbers were the only entertaining part of an incomprehensibly bad team. Those types of seasons continued through the playoff runs of 2007 and 2008 and he was the best player on the team even a year ago.
But that’s over, and I want to thank Lee for his years on the North Side and all the fun, among other things, he’s provided this Cubs fan, and wish him luck playing for the NL East-leading Braves, while also taking a look into the future.
The Cubs got three young right-handed pitchers in the deal, and while none of them are ready for the majors just yet, they could be serviceable in the future.
The youngest and rawest is 19-year-old Robinson Lopez, a starter-reliever swingman who’s been roughed up a bit in Single-A ball, with a 4.37 ERA, but he has an ability to keep the ball in the park, as he’s only surrendered five homers all year. If he can cut down on his walks (4.2 per nine innings, yikes), he could get to the bigs in a few years.
22-year-old reliever Jeffrey Lorick is moving quickly through the minors. Picked by the Braves in the 20th round of last year’s draft, he’s already in his third stop in their system, but he, too, needs to cut down on his walks allowed.
Tyrelle Harris, a 23-year-old also picked in last June’s draft, is the clear centerpiece of the deal. He’s moved with lightning quickness through the Braves’ system, currently pitching in Double-A, with an eye-popping 60 strikeouts in 49.2 innings pitched. If he continues dominating batters, he could be in Chicago by next summer.
With this deal, the Cubs wrung the most out of the Braves that they were going to get, given Lee’s contract, age (he’ll be 35 next month), and underwhelming 2010 numbers. I applaud GM Jim Hendry for being able to get even this much, and again, thank Derrek Lee for nearly seven years of being a reason to watch this miserable team I can’t pry my eyes from. Seriously, this train wreck season can’t get much worse, right?