So after we all worried that the Braves were going to ride Troy Glaus to the bitter end, deliverance arrived today in the form of Derrek Lee. Lee represents an immediate upgrade at first. As long as the Braves’ doctors are right in concluding that Lee’s back issues don’t pose an issue for the remainder of the season, then we have a perfect fit: a National League first baseman who can hit for power and get on base. Moreover, his contract is up at the end of the year, which is good in two respects. First, Lee is going to be highly motivated because he is playing for money in the winter. Second, he is not going to block Freddie Freeman. Additionally, the Braves did not surrender any prospects of note, so this is not at all like some other first baseman the Braves acquired in a push for a pennant. Cliff Corcoran of SI.com sums up the upside:
That the 34-year-old Lee is a far better hitter than his miserable first-half (.233/.329/.366) is what the Braves are hanging their hat on here, as Lee has struggled at Turner Field over his career (.237/.338/.388) and doesn't have any other favorable splits this season that would suggest his performance could be maximized through platooning or by escaping what is indeed the hitting-friendly Wrigley Field. If Lee can simply perform at a level equal to his career rates of .282/.367/.499, he'll be a huge upgrade for the Braves, equivalent to having the early-season version of Glaus back. In fact, with Infante effectively replacing the OBP-only version of Chipper Jones, Prado back in the lineup, and Lee and Alex Gonzalez representing upgrades on the aching Glaus and slumping Yunel Escobar, the Braves infield might actually be stronger now than it was with Jones in the lineup, both at the plate and in the field.
My trip to the Memory Motel turned out to be useful. Just as Sid Bream’s look of dismay in 1993 presaged the Braves acquiring a left-handed first baseman, so did Troy Glaus’s look on Monday night. This can only mean that the Braves are going to dominate for the rest of the regular season, a luxury box is going to catch fire tomorrow night, and the Braves’ season is going to end with a playoff loss to the Phillies.
And speaking of departed Braves, Lee played a prominent role in Braves history as his home run off of John Rocker on June 21, 2001 marked the last appearance for Rocker as a Brave. It was not a cheap home run. I remember watching the game from section 409 and marveling at the charge that Lee put into his game-winning homer. Lee and Rocker had mildly divergent fortunes thereafter.