Should the Rays Saddle Up ‘El Caballo’ for One Final Ride?
By Dereck Violante
With a little over a month until pitchers and catchers are due to report to camp for most organizations, most teams are continuing the search for the final pieces to the puzzle to complete their 25 man rosters. The Rays need just a few last pieces to complete their puzzle, most notably bullpen help and another bat in the lineup or DH. With Mike Morse now off the radar fresh off a trade to the Mariners, who is left on the market? Michael Bourn (.274/.348/.391, 9 HR, 57 RBI, 42 SB in 2012) is still available, but barring a miracle is out of the Rays price range as he is a Scott Boras client and looking for a multi-year breakout deal. Delmon Young (.267/.296/.411, 18 HR, 74 RBI in 2012) could be an option for a second go around with the Rays but carries more baggage than an employee at Southwest Airlines and made $6.75MM last year, a little out of the Rays price range considering he would be looking for a raise coming off a solid season. Kelly Johnson (.225/.313/.365, 16 HR, 55 RBI, 14 SB in 2012) could be another option coming off a sub-par year batting just .225 and being primarily a second baseman by trade doesn’t seem likely. But the big name that stands out here for the Rays seems to be Carlos Lee (.264/.332/.364, 9 HR, 77 RBI) who split time between Houston & Miami last season.
Lee is coming off the monster contract he signed with Houston in 2006, 6 years $99.5MM, $18.5MM last season alone, and seems at first glance to be out of the Rays price range, but obviously knows his stock dropped now that he’s gotten up their an age (36) and and has both diminished power and interest. Even the Marlins aren’t interested in his services this year as noted by MLB.Com’s Joe Frisaro, even in the midst of 1B/LF Logan Morrison‘s knee surgery. Lee could be an absolute steal for the Rays if signed at the right price. With a career triple slash line of .285/.339/.483 and averaging about 25 HR & 97 RBI per season, Lee has been a productive major league player for a long time, and although he’s not what he once was, he can still play, walking 58 times compared to 49 strikeouts in 2012 and although he went deep just 9 times in 2012, he slammed 18 home runs in 2011 and 24 homers as recently as 2010, his last of 11 straight seasons hitting 24 or more homers. Most attractive to the Rays is that he’s a player with almost no platoon split for his career, managing a .822 OPS against righties and a .821 OPS against lefties. In 2012, Lee bizarrely stopped hitting lefties, managing just a .559 OPS in 153 PA’s against them even while his .744 OPS against righties remained pretty good, but a .205 BAbip may be to blame for that as he destroyed left-handers to the tune of a 1.028 OPS in 2011 and hit solidly better against them each year from 2009 to 2011. Lee definitely showed signs of decline in 2012, but there is a chance that his issues had nearly as much to do with bad luck as the effects of age, and he could still have one more good year left in him.
Lee is not the player he once was, but he still has the ability to contribute to a major league team, especially one in need of offensive help like the Rays. Even with declining power and little defense value, he could be a good enough DH, a platoon partner for the lefty-hitting James Loney at first base, and even a backup left fielder in the case of a complete emergency. Could the Rays make a play for Lee on a 1 year deal in the range of $3MM-$5MM, maybe with some incentives involved, to see if he’s willing to take a sign a deal with a low base contract in exchange for the opportunity to be a regular player for another year if he plays well? After the Rays payed Luke Scott $5MM to be their DH in 2012 and Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez 5.25MM and 2MM respectively in 2011, Lee could very well be next in line.
One hiccup here is that Lee is picky about where he is willing to play as it was reported that he declined trades to the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles from the Marlins last season. But having the opportunity to keep playing in Florida may make Tampa a reasonable destination for him for next season. To this point in the off-season very few rumors have come out with any interest in Lee and his options seem to be disappearing by the day. But if the Lee can truly still play and the money works itself out, “El Caballo” (The Horse), as he is known, could saddle up for one last run at the playoffs as a member of the 2013 Tampa Bay Rays.