Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wednesday What Happened - The Carlos Lee Trade

Just like every other year, the Major League Baseball trade deadline is July 31st. What makes this trade deadline so interesting is that the Milwaukee Brewers are most likely out of the playoff hunt which means they have two very attractive players, Prince Fielder and Corey Hart, that are available for the right price. Fielder and Hart are not scheduled to become free agents until after the 2011 season but anything can happen in the next 72 hours because Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin is no stranger to trade deadline deals.

Let's hop in Doc Brown's time machine and head back exactly four years to July 28, 2006 when Doug Melvin sent Carlos Lee (LF) and Nelson Cruz (RF) to the Texas Rangers for Francisco Cordero (Closer), Kevin Mench (LF), Laynce Nix (LF), and Julian Cordero (RHP).

At the time of the trade the Brewers were going nowhere, so they wanted to get something in return for Carlos Lee who was schedule to become free agent after the 2006 season. Shortly before the 2006 trade deadline Doug Melvin offered Lee a four-year, $48 million deal but Lee turned the deal down (Brewers dodged a huge bullet there by the way). As a result, Melvin felt "forced" to trade Lee. I say "forced" because even if the Brewers were unable to resign Lee, he was going be a "Class A" free agent (ranked in the top 20% of players at his position) so losing him would have netted the Brewers the top pick of the team that signed Lee and a sandwich pick between the first and second round in the 2007 MLB amateur draft.

Melvin claimed that six teams made offers for Lee at the 2006 trade deadline. We will never know if that is true, what we do know is that Melvin was the general manager for the Texas Rangers from 1994 to 2001. Melvin might have been offered a more attractive package from another team (according to a neutral party) but he wanted to get "his guys" from Texas. Unfortunately, "his guys" were not worth much:

Julian Cordero pitched briefly in Single A for the Brewers and is currently a free agent.

In three seasons with the Brewers, Laynce Nix had 9 hits over 57 at bats in 30 games. In 2009 Nix finally got regular at bats when he joined the Cincinnati Reds and put up careers highs in almost every offensive category.

In 2006 Kevin Mench hit .230 (29 hits in 126 at bats) in 40 games. In 2007 Mench hit .267 (77 hits in over 288 at bats) in 101 games. The Brewers did not tender Mench a contract for 2008 after his lackluster performance in a Brewers uniform.

Suffice to say, Melvin went 0 for 3 on the aforementioned players. Brewers closer Derrick Turnbow was an All-Star in 2006 but had a complete melt down as the season went on (0-4, allowed 14 earned runs over 4 2/3 innings resulting in a 26.98 ERA over his last nine appearances) which forced Melvin to acquire another closer.

That brings us to Francisco Cordero. The Rangers were offering Cordero to anyone and everyone. At the start of 2006 Cordero had a complete meltdown (sound familiar...paging Derrick Turnbow) and wasn't even serving as a closer for the Rangers when he was traded to the Brewers. Luckily for the Brewers a change of scenery helped Cordero. In one and a half seasons in a Brewers uniform Cordero was 3-5, converted 60 saves (9 blown) and amassed a 1.69 ERA in 2006 and a 2.98 ERA in 2007.

After the 2007 season Cordero became a free agent. The highest offer the Brewers extended to Cordero was a four-year, $42 million contract with an option for a fifth year for $13 million. Cordero spurned the Brewers offer and signed a four-year, $46 million contract with an option for a fifth year for $12 million ($1 million buyout) with the Cincinnati Reds. When Cordero signed the deal with the Reds, it was the largest amount of guaranteed money ever given to a closer.

As compensation for losing Francisco Cordero, the Milwaukee Brewers got the 32nd pick in the 2008 MLB Draft. With the 32nd pick the Brewers took Jake Odorizzi (born on March 27, 1990), a 6'2" and 175 pound right handed pitcher out of Highland High School in Highland, IL. Odorizzi is progressing nicely though the organization and is currently 6-1 with a 2.98 ERA for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, the Brewers Class A affiliate.

For those scoring at home so far, Doug Melvin turned Carlos Lee and Nelson Cruz into Jake Odorizzi. Just to add salt the wounds, let's look at what the Rangers from the Brewers.

In 2005 Nelson Cruz hit .302 with 22 doubles, 20 HRs, 73 RBIs, and 17 stolen bases in 104 games for the Brewers' Triple-A affiliate in Nashville. The aforementioned productive season earned Cruz the the Brewers' minor league player of the year award for 2005. Again if you are scoring at home, Cruz is worth much more than all the players the Brewers got from the Rangers and we haven't even gotten to the center piece of the trade yet.

At the time of the trade the Rangers were only two games out of first place. Despite adding Lee and Cruz, the Rangers puttered down the stretch and finished 13 games behind the 2006 American League West Champion Oakland Athletics. As a result the Rangers decided to go in a new direction and let Carlos Lee sign with another team. Lee signed a monster six-year, $100 million contract ($3 million signing bonus, $11 million in '07, $12 million in '08, $18.5 million in '09, $18.5 million in '10, $18.5 million in '11, and $18.5 million in '12) with the Houston Astros after the 2006 season.

As compensation for losing Carlos Lee, the Texas Rangers got the 17th pick (Astros' first round pick) and 35th pick (sandwich pick) in the 2007 MLB Draft. With the 17th pick the Rangers took Blake Beavan (born on January 17, 1989), a 6'7" and 250 pound right handed pitcher out of Irving High School in Irving, TX. With the 35th pick the Rangers took Julio Borbon (born on February 20, 1986), a 6'0' and 195 pound center fielder out of the University of Tennessee.

The Rangers missed on Beavan, who is now a minor league pitcher in the Seattle Mariners organization. The Rangers hit a grand slam with Borbon who is already their starting centerfielder. As a result the Rangers went one for two with the draft picks they got for letting Carlos Lee leave for a bloated contract in Houston, which is great considering that the MLB draft is very unpredictable.

So for a final look at the trade four years (to the day) later, Doug Melvin turned Carlos Lee and Nelson Cruz into minor league pitcher Jake Odorizzi. The Rangers turned Francisco Cordero, Kevin Mench, Laynce Nix, and Julian Cordero into starting left fielder Nelson Cruz and starting center fielder Julio Borbon.

That was a long way of saying that unless Melvin gets an amazing offer for Fielder or Hart, he might as well hold on to them. At the very least if they leave as free agents in 2011, the Brewers will get a ton of draft picks as compensation. As the Carlos Lee trade shows, sometimes draft picks are better than a smattering of mediocre major league talent.

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