Derrek Lee is entering the final year of his contract this season. He recently stated that he would not negotiate during the season. I think this works well for both Lee and the Cubs.
This decision allows Lee to focus only on baseball. Baseball can be a tough game as it is and it’s even harder to play when you have something like a contract distracting you. Lee being focused only on baseball can only help. If Lee puts up numbers the money will be there either from the Cubs or someone else. The Cubs need a productive Derrek Lee if they hope to catch the Cardinals in the NL Central this season. I don’t think Lee or the Cubs can afford a distraction. I think Lee’s decision does help the Cubs as well. Lee is getting up there in years and it’s wise to let the 2010 season play out before committing a multi-year deal to him. There are also plenty of quality first baseman available next off-season like Albert Pujols, Carlos Pena, and Lance Berkman. I doubt Pujols leaves St Louis, but even so there are still quality options out there. With the size of the contracts declining and the supply of first baseman available there can be some bargains out there. So I would rather Jim Hendry wait for the market to set itself instead of jumping the gun on Lee.
One guy I would consider for 2011 would be Adam LaRoche. If he can be had for a deal similar to what he signed this off-season I think he would be a bargain. LaRoche is a downgrade from Lee, but he is still a productive bat and would come cheaper. You probably would not have to give him a multi-year deal as well. If they can get him for around $5 million and with the contracts of Lee and Ted Lilly coming off the books they may have enough money to make a run at Josh Beckett or Cliff Lee. The team seems to be in cost-cutting mode so I don’t think LaRoche playing first base in 2011 is far-fetched.
I would love to see Lee finish his career with the Cubs, but I think it is possible that this is Lee’s last year with the Cubs. Considering his age and the team’s current financial situation it may be best to let Lee walk and spread the money around. The Lee situation will say a lot about the Cubs plans going forward.