Carlos Lee gets a fresh start, and the Astros move on
In a lot of ways, Carlos Lee got a raw deal during 5 1/2 seasons with the Astros. He became the face of the failings of the franchise, and that was never fair. The Astros went from one of Major League Baseball’s most successful franchises to one that’s being rebuilt from the ground up for a long list of reasons.
Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell couldn’t play forever. There were a ton of mistakes made in the First-Year player draft and plenty more in free agency. Jeff Kent and Andy Pettitte were shown the door. For several years, the Astros thought they were one or two players away from being back in contention, and so millions were thrown at an over-the-hill gang that included Miguel Tejada, Kaz Matsui, Bill Hall, Woody Williams, Mike Hampton, etc.
Lee stepped into the middle of it all after the 2006 season when he was signed to a six-year, $100-million contract. First, he was being asked to replace a hole in the lineup created by the departures of Beltran and Kent. Second, the franchise had a host of other needs, and without a productive farm system, they couldn’t all be addressed.
Lee was an incredibly consistent offensive player during his first four seasons with the Astros. He averaged 28 home runs and 102 RBIs a season and had an .833 OPS. His production declined the last two seasons as he got older, but that’s one of the risks of giving a 30-year-old player a longterm deal for big bucks. As former Astros owner Drayton McLane said when asked what Lee’s signing had taught him, “Long-term contracts can be painful.”
For those first four seasons, Lee was pretty much the player he’d always been. He was a very tough out. He didn’t strike out much and had the ability to produce even when a pitcher delivered his best pitch.
He wasn’t a very good defensive outfielder. Never had been. Was never going to be. The Astros didn’t get him for his glove. They got him for his bat, and that’s where he excelled.
He was also never going to be Charlie Hustle. He never had been. If the Astros thought $100 million was going to transform him into something else, they just didn’t do their homework.
Besides, the Astros had so many other issues that Lee wasn’t going to turn them around if he’d shown up at 2:30 and called a team meeting twice a week.
Carlos never seemed to let the criticism get to him. He showed up everyday with a smile on his face, went about his business and did his thing at the plate.
Once Jim Crane bought the Astros last Fall and brought in GM Jeff Luhnow to build the baseball operation, Carlos was a poor fit. Luhnow wants to open the Major League roster up to young players who might improve and grow with the franchise. He now has that at every position, and if a couple of the young pitchers now performing well in the minors are the real deal, the Astros have a chance to improve quickly.