Carlos Lee is heading to Miami. While the 36-year-old first baseman vetoed a trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers last week, Lee
accepted a deal was sent to the Miami Marlins on Wednesday. Lee is clearly on the decline, but his .286/.336/.412 line is a nice upgrade over the .236/.292/.359 line put up by Marlins’ first basemen this season. Still, the Marlins are 39-42, and currently nine games out of first place. Lee will help, but the Marlins are going to need more if they hope to get back into the playoff race.
The Marlins’ offense was in desperate need for an upgrade. The team’s .307 wOBA ties them with the San Francisco Giants for 22nd in baseball. A big part of the Marlins’ offensive struggles has been first baseman Gaby Sanchez, who has collapsed this season. Sanchez — who was sent to the minors for a stint this year and now returns to Triple-A with Lee’s acquisition — has hit just .194/.240/.283. His -0.9 WAR is the worst among all first basemen. Simply put, trading for Lee helps mask the Marlins’ biggest deficiency.
But still, Lee is no longer an offensive powerhouse. While Lee’s average and on-base percentage are similar to his career numbers, his slugging percentage since 2010 is just .428. That’s a far cry from his .489 career mark. Plus, those numbers came in Houston, which has a 117 home-run-park factor for righties. It’s too early to get accurate figures on the new Marlins Park, but it’s unlikely to play that favorably to right-handed hitters. Lee still makes contact at a good clip (89.9%) — and he should continue to high for a decent average — but he can’t singlehandedly save the Marlins.
And that’s pretty significant, too. The Marlins are three games under .500 and are playing in one of the most competitive divisions in baseball. The Marlins also have the fifth-worst run differential (-59) in the National League. It’s not impossible for them to get back in the race, but one player isn’t going to fix all those problems. If the Marlins want to contend, they’re going to have to be much more active as the trading deadline nears.
The Marlins could really use some help in the center field. Emilio Bonifacio’s return from the disabled list will help, but he’s a poor defender and he can’t hit for power. Marlins’ center fielders have combined for a 0.1 WAR this season, which ranks them 27th in the major leagues. The team also needs help in the bullpen, where Heath Bell has continued his decline. As Ozzie Guillen reminded us on Tuesday, Bell’s not the only problem in the ‘pen. Add those problems to the issue in left field — where Logan Morrison has a .242/.317/.433 line —and it’s obvious that this team needs way more than one new player to right this ship.
As for Lee, it will be interesting to see how he responds to his reunion with Ozzie Guillen. Guillen was critical of Lee’s non-aggressive playing style when he was Lee’s manager with the Chicago White Sox. In a game against the Minnesota Twins, Torii Hunter collided with White Sox catcher Jamie Burke, who had to leave the game with a concussion. Lee had an opportunity to take out the Twins second baseman on a slide late in the game, and did not. After Lee was traded to Milwaukee the following off-season, Guillen cited that moment as one of the reasons for the deal.
Still, it’s not like the Marlins gave up that much. The Astros are paying the rest of Lee’s contract this season — minus the pro-rated minimum — so he’s basically playing in Miami for free. Matt Dominguez is a former top prospect, but his bat has stalled terribly. He’s still just 22, so there’s a chance for him to turn things around. If he can’t improve his hitting, he’ll be a good defensive replacement. Rob Rasmussen was the Marlins’ 11th best prospect coming into the season, Marc Hulet wrote earlier. Hulet also noted that unless Rasmussen improves his control and command, he’d become a lefty reliever.
Lee’s an upgrade, just not a big one. His addition isn’t going to save the Marlins’ season. But if this move signifies that the Marlins are going to go for it in 2012, they’re going to need much, much more.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. 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.