Michael Young For Carlos Lee Makes Sense

Michael Young does not want to play for the Texas Rangers anymore – he made that clear with his public assailing of their front office last night, and essentially changed the incentives for Jon Daniels to move him. Now, instead of creating some long term financial flexibility, the Rangers are also motivated to move him to avoid the circus that would ensue if Young reported to spring training with the team. While the Rangers have said publicly that they’ll only move him in a deal that makes sense for their club, Young changed the calculus, and the bar for an acceptable deal has to be lower now than it was a few days ago.

The Rangers, however, aren’t really in a position where they should be dumping talent just to free up future payroll. They’re the favorites in the AL West and need to be re-enforcing the strength of their roster, not dropping useful (even if overpaid) players for nothing in return. So, while most of the rumors to date have focused on shipping Young to Colorado, I think there’s a deal that makes more sense for the Rangers.

Young has a list of eight teams he can be traded to without his consent. The Houston Astros are on that list, and they have a similarly useful but overpaid player who doesn’t really fit on their roster anymore – Carlos Lee. Swapping Young for Lee could help both franchises.

Like Young, Lee was a good player in his prime, but his defense has degraded to the point where DH is probably his best position, though he could fake it at first base as well. The Astros don’t have the option of using him at DH, and with Brett Wallace around, using Lee as a full-time first baseman isn’t a great use of their resources either. At $18.5 million per year for the next two years, Lee is an albatross who isn’t helping the Astros in their attempt to┬árebuild.

On the other hand, the Astros aren’t exactly set on the infield. They have Bill Hall slated to play second base and Chris Johnson slotted in for third, but neither of those options are long term solutions, and Young would be able to play everyday in Houston without blocking anyone who might have a decent future.

On the Rangers’ side of things, Lee would give them a replacement for the 1B/DH at-bats they had allotted to Young, and a bat who offers some legitimate rebound potential. While he posted an awful .308 wOBA last year, that was almost entirely due to a huge drop in his BABIP. Compare his 2009 and 2010 lines, for instance.

2009: 6.2% BB%, 8.4% K%, .189 ISO, 10.5% HR/FB, .290 BABIP, .355 wOBA
2010: 5.7% BB%, 9.8% K%, .170 ISO, 9.5% HR/FB, .238 BABIP, .308 wOBA

He got worse in every category, but the margins were slim in each area besides BABIP, and suggest that they only lost a little bit of his ability due to aging, and didn’t experience the cavernous drop-off that his raw batting line might suggest. Lee had posted a BABIP between .290 and .299 in each of the prior three seasons, and while it’s more of a skill for hitters than it is for pitchers, there’s still a good bit of seasonal variance in that outcome. Lee should experience a pretty solid bounce back season in 2011.

Lee helps Texas more than Young would, offering a better bat at the same position without all the drama surrounding his role. Young would help the Astros more than Lee would, moving their high priced veteran out of the way of some of their younger talents. The money is pretty similar (Young is due $16.5 million over each of the next three years, while Lee is due $18.5 million through 2012), so it wouldn’t be that challenging for the two franchises to make it a wash financially. Lee does have a full no-trade clause, but he’s from Texas and may be willing to waive it to go to a contender not that far from where he’s at now.

More than dumping him on the Rockies for a pu-pu platter and some cash savings, the move that makes the most sense here is a Michael Young for Carlos Lee swap.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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jeffrey gross
11 years ago

Agree highly.