After posting a .303/.393/.579 slash line with 36 doubles and 35 HR's in 2009, his sixth season playing for the Chicago Cubs, 35-year-old, 14-year veteran first baseman Derrek Lee finished the 2010 campaign (after a trade to Atlanta) with a .260/.347/.428 line, 35 doubles and 19 HR's. Once the season ended with the Braves elimination from the playoffs by the eventual World Champion Giants, Lee immediately had surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb, which MLB.com writer Bailey Stephens wrote in an early November article entitled, "D. Lee has surgery on his right thumb", had bothered the slugger, "...throughout most of the 2010 season, likely limiting his production down the stretch for the Braves."
Last season, Lee saw a drop in his HR/FB ratio (17.9% in '09 to a career low 12.1% in 2010), and a decreased fly ball percentage (45.7% to 37.6%) overall, with a rise in line drives (19.2% to 22.5%) and grounders (35.1% to 39.8%), but a drop in infield hits (6.7% to 3.0%) and BABIP (from .327 in '09 to .309). Lee also compiled the second highest K total of his career. Was it the thumb? The trade talk and eventual deal? The constant turmoil in Chicago for a veteran who'd seen better years with better teams? Whatever it was, Lee's in his mid-30s and coming off his worst season since becoming a full-time player, but he's still drawing the interest of several teams (including the Nationals according to reports) in a weak free agent class that already lost a good deal of the first base talent that was avaiable.
Boston Globe writer Nick Cafardo put the Nats in the hunt for D. Lee along with the Diamondbacks, Orioles and Padres in his Sunday "Baseball Notes" column entitled, "Not everybody met with success this past week", writing that the free agent first baseman, "...could emerge with a decent offer, not blockbuster money but better than expected," with each team trying to fill big holes at first and in the middle of their lineups. The O's, Nats and Padres are also reportedly targeting Adam LaRoche (the D-Backs offered arbitration, LaRoche declined), a left-handed bat, who'd probably be preferable for the right-hand-heavy Nationals who've already added Jayson Werth to a lineup featuring right-handed middle-of-the-order bats like Ryan Zimmerman and Josh Willingham.
MLB.com's Bill Ladson, in an article entitled, "Nationals targeting Lee for first base", quoted a source of his own Sunday night who confirmed that Lee, the 3-time Gold Glove winner, is on the Nationals' radar, as is LaRoche. "A source indicated that the two parties are in talks," Mr. Ladson wrote of LaRoche, but they, "...are not close to an agreement." LaRoche hit .261 with a .320 OBP, .468 SLG, 37 doubles, 25 HR's, 100 RBI's and a career high 172 K's last season in Arizona. In the field he made 11 errors and put up a .991 fld% and +4.8 UZR/150 to Lee's 7 E's, .994 fld% and +2.3 UZR/150, which was down from +7.2 in '08 and +4.5 in '09.
With Aubrey Huff, Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko and Carlos Pena already off the market and everyone looking for a first baseman now focused on Lee and LaRoche, you'd think the Nats might be in a hurry to replace the power they've lost with Adam Dunn's departure, but as D.C. GM Mike Rizzo tells MLB.com's Mr. Ladson in the article, he's, "looking for a long- or short-term solution", but, "he is not going to be rushed into any deal," :
"'I don't ever want to feel rushed to do a deal. I think when you feel rushed to do a deal, you make a deal that you may not have wanted to do.'"
No rush. You just need a first baseman before mid-February...