Despite saying he had offers from four teams to play this season, 14-year veteran Carlos Lee officially announced his retirement today.
One of the more consistent hitters of the 2000s, the three-time All-Star from Panama finishes his career with a .285/.339/.483 line, with 469 doubles, 358 home runs and an OPS+ of 113. Never the best defender, his WAR numbers were never spectacular, but he was always a solid bat to have in the middle of the lineup.
Of course, the problem was that for much of the latter half of his career, he was paid to produce like a superstar.
Coming off a 2006 season in which he hit a combined 37 home runs and 102 RBI for the Brewers and Rangers, the Astros signed him to a six-year, $100 million contract. While it even seemed like an overpay at the time, the funny thing was it almost simultaneously looked like a bargain, considering Alfonso Soriano got eight years and $136 million from the Cubs and Barry Zito got seven years and $126 million from the Giants that same offseason.
The Astros of the mid-2000s were desperate to hang on to their decade-long run of success, however, and were just a couple years removed from a World Series appearance. With Jeff Bagwell gone and Craig Biggio only sticking around to get his 3000th hit, the hope was that Lee and Lance Berkman would keep things going. As we know now, though, that quickly fell apart as the roster aged and the front office made some big blunders, all as the neglect of the farm system started to show. The Astros became the definition of a Stars-And-Scrubs squad.
Lee's first two seasons in Houston were actually every bit as productive as the Astros could have suspected. In 2007 and 2008, Lee hit .308/.360/.545 (a .905 OPS and a 133 OPS+) in his first 1063 ABs as an Astro. The last four years of the contract ended up being disappointing, however, as he hit just .271/.327/.431 (.758 OPS, 105 OPS+). That's pretty close to average (slightly above, actually, if you believe the OPS+), but average isn't what you're looking for from a guy making $19 million a year. Lee finished his big league career with 81 games in Miami, hitting just .243/.328/.325 as a Marlin. The Astros finished with a winning record just once during the span of Lee's six-year deal.
Still, Lee proved to be a valuable asset for multiple clubs during his career, whether it was on the field or as a trade chip. A breakout 2004 season with the White Sox allowed Chicago to trade him to Milwaukee for Luis Vizcaino and Scott Podsednik, who proved to be a big part of their 2006 World Series-winning team. Lee's lone full season in Milwaukee helped the Brewers reach .500 for the first time since 1992. When the Rangers traded for Lee in 2006, they also got a young outfielder that was blocked in Milwaukee by the name of Nelson Cruz, who helped Texas reach back-to-back World Series in 2010 and 2011.
In the end, Lee retires as one of the two best players to ever come out of Panama (Rod Carew being the other), ranking first among Panamanians in home runs, RBI and doubles. He was never a true star, but was still a very good player that was often the best player on otherwise average teams. Factor in his longevity and ability to stay healthy, and all in all it was a very solid career.
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