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El Caballo: Should he stay or should he go?

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We've been debating the eventual fate of almost since the very day the Brewers first acquired him, before the 2005 season in trade for Scott Podsednik. To get us started, Dave Begel and Drew Olson hashed out the issues in a Point/Counterpoint at OnMilwaukee.com.

Begel says we have to keep him:

He's such a good hitter that opposing pitchers pitch around him, so the guy behind him gets better pitches. The guy behind him is . Lee hits home runs. He drives in runs. He plays solid, even sometimes spectacular defense, in left field. On rare occasion he even steals a base.

I'm going to register an objection against "solid, even sometimes spectacular defense," but moving on for now, Olson says we don't:

Lee, whose nickname "El Caballo" is Spanish for "The Horse," has played every game since he joined the Brewers. Can he stay healthy for the duration of a long-term deal? Given his age and size - 6 foot 2 inches and roughly 250 pounds - would he be better suited to sign with an American League team that could use him as a designated hitter? What about performance? Studies have shown that players not named Barry Bonds tend to peak in their late 20s. Can the Brewers afford to sign a guy who may be injury-prone and generally on the decline in the final two years of his deal?
So, let's look at what we know:
  1. Barring injury, Lee will command something like $50-$65m over 4-5 years in free agency. I expect he will settle for very little less with the Brewers, even if he wants to stay in Milwaukee.

  2. There may not be a potential superstar among the younger Brewers outfielders, but with , , and , it's a reasonable bet that the Crew could get, say, Jenkins-like production out of LF next year.

  3. As Drew suggests, players start their decline right...about...now. There's almost no way that Carlos would be worth $12m+ in the fifth year of his deal, maybe not even in the 2nd or 3rd year. Heck, aside from 2004 with the White Sox and what he may amass this year, he's never been worth that much.

  4. The Brewers will always have a relatively small payroll, and even if it grows to, say, $70m, a Carlos contract could really impair Doug Melvin's ability to do what else needs to be done.

  5. We're very lucky to have lots of "cheap" players right now: Fielder, Weeks, Hardy, Hall, Capuano, and Turnbow are all making next to nothing this year by baseball standards. However, as they enter arbitration, they'll get pricier, squeezing the payroll a bit more, especially into what would be the 3rd, 4th and 5th years of Carlos's next contract.
Okay, that'll do for now. What I'm curious about is not whether you think we should keep him or not--that's really simple, and frankly it's a meaningless debate. What I want to know is, at what price do you keep him?

Is Carlos worth the $60m/5y to the Crew? Would you be willing to give him more money over less time, like $42m/3y? Do you not care to find out what happens to Carlos when he turns 33, but want to offer $25m/2y with incentives that could push it up to $32m?

In other words, when he goes into negotiations with Carlos's agent, Doug Melvin has to have a few numbers in his head that he's comfortable with...that he won't exceed. What should those numbers be?

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