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2005 Brewers Preview Part 3: Left Field

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I don't know about you, but one of my favorite parts about each offseason is the possibility of completely unforeseen trades. It lends a little more excitement to the winter when you know that, at any time, your team could gain an impact bat, pick up a couple of prospects for a utility player, or ... really, the possibilities are endless.

I certainly didn't see the Carlos Lee deal coming. Podsednik, especially after signing his relatively inexpensive multi-year deal, didn't appear to be going anywhere. And after the way Yost and Maddux continued to trust Vizcaino the last couple of years, it didn't cross my mind that he'd be on the trading block.

But, of course, Milwaukee made the deal for the right-handed impact bat they so desperately needed last year. Carlos Lee may not be Albert Pujols, but given the state of right-handed hitting on the Crew last year--Keith Ginter was the most potent force from that side of the plate, and he didn't even have a guaranteed spot in the lineup every day--El Caballo is a big improvement. Last year, Lee smacked 31 dingers for a slugging average of .525. That's Russell Branyan territory, without the soul-sucking numbers of K's.

2004 was Lee's career year thus far, so it might be reasonable to expect a slight regression. But even a slight regression from those numbers will be a welcome presence in the Brewers lineup. His career averages suggest he'll give us about 27 home runs, 100 RBIs, and a batting line of .288/.340/.488. He's played at least 140 games each of the last 5 years, so we can expect to see his face out in left field just about every day. (Which is good; frankly, I don't want to see Chris Magruder's face out there very often.)

And heading into his age 29 season, Lee could be poised for a breakout year. He's been remarkably consistent since 2000, with fluctuations only in batting average and OBP, and it certainly won't hurt him to be surrounded by lefties in the lineup. In 2004, Miller Park played quite a bit more pitcher-friendly than did U.S. Cellular, but those numbers haven't been very consistent, so it's not clear his slugging numbers will take a hit from the change in scenery.

Lee's arrival, at least in part, heralded the change in ownership: trading Podsednik's cheap contract for Lee's $7.5 million one wouldn't have happened without the team changing hands. I wouldn't be surprised to see pundits use Lee's 2006 option ($8.5 million) as a test of just how much Attanasio is willing to commit to see the Brewers win, but I feel that'd be a mistake, especially if Corey Hart and/or Prince Fielder plays well this year.

As I discussed a bit in my right field preview on Wednesday, the Brewers face a pleasant problem: a logjam in the outfield in 2006 and 2007. Jenkins is under contract through '07, there's the option on Lee's deal, Corey Hart might be major-league ready in some form this season, Nelson Cruz and Brad Nelson could be ready to contribute in a year or two, and unless the Crew trades Lyle Overbay, odds are he's headed to the outfield to make room for Prince Fielder. Lee is the most expensive of the bunch, and if he could be dealt in July--or perhaps at some point next year--for quality young (read: cheap) pitching, that might be the best option for the Brewers.

In the meantime, let's sit back and enjoy watching El Caballo roam left field at Miller Park this year.

My poll question for this entry: what's your prediction for Carlos Lee's production this year?