Like a polar bear in the midst of a desert island, Carlos Lee didn’t fit his current surroundings. On Wednesday, his tenure in Houston finally come to an end as the Astros traded him to the Miami Marlins for two minor league prospects. Days following his rejection of a move to the Los Angeles Dodgers, General Manager Jeff Luhnow found a taker who didn’t appear on Lee’s no-trade list. Edging back toward Wild Card contention, the Marlins needed an influx of power.
I’m not sure they’ll receive it in this aging slugger. During his prime, Lee was a lock to hit 30 home runs and notch 100 RBI’s. But at 36, as his body starts to betray him and whispers about his commitment to conditioning grow louder, the first baseman is hitting just .286 with 5 home runs and 29 RBI’s.
Perhaps a pennant race or a change of scenery jolts his competitive nature and Lee starts mashing with power again. I wouldn’t count on it. His cattle ranch near Houston will keep him wealthy post-retirement and that business seems to have become his focus more each day. The Astros, desperate to unload a player without any benefit to rebuilding, are likely to pay almost all of his remaining 2012 salary. He’s owed around $9 million for the rest of the season.
In his place, Brett Wallace should return from Triple-A and receive what might be his last chance at claiming the position. Jonathan Singleton continues battering Double-A pitching and the first baseman of the future may get the opportunity to earn the position in Spring Training. If Wallace falters, his time in the organization reverts to fourth outfielder or injury replacement so it’s safe to assume, these are significant months for him.
In return for Lee, Houston acquires Matt Dominguez, a third baseman with an above-average glove and a bit less of a bat. According to Brian McTaggart of MLB.com, he’ll report directly to the big league club. Sharing time with Chris Johnson at third, Luhnow and the front office probably want to see whether the 22 year-old still possesses the talent that made him a recent rising prospect in the Marlins system. Currently repeating Triple-A in New Orleans this year, Dominguez’s offensive numbers dwindled.
Joining Dominguez in the trade is left-handed pitcher Rob Rasmussen. The 2010 second-round pick earned a call-up to Double-A but was dealt before he received a start. In High-A, Rasmuseen sported a 3.90 ERA and a 2.08/1 strikeout to walk ratio. Internet scouts seems to peg him as a back-end rotation guy and at his age, if he competes for that spot in a year or two, it’s a trade win for the Astros.
The players headed for Minute Maid aren’t sterling prospects but this deal was more about Lee exiting. It’s a finality for an albatross of a contract that saddled the Astros and became Exhibit A as to their struggles. Signing aging free-agent veterans doesn’t build championship contenders unless you ink a ton of them a la the New York Yankees. Laying a foundation through the Draft, as Luhnow and his cohort appear to understand, is a much quicker route to respectability and leaving the doldrums of rebuilding behind.