Last off-season the White Sox and Brewers turned a lot of heads by swapping outfielders. It was a questionable move by the White Sox at the time although I offered tepid support. No doubt, the Brewers got the best player in the deal. But the Sox got a useful outfielder who could take over the leadoff spot, a workhorse reliever, and most importantly, were able to dump salary. The salary dump gave Kenny Williams the payroll flexibility to make a number of other acquisitions that included signing El Duque, AJ, and Iguchi. My only question at the time was whether Williams could have gotten more for Lee, but I had no problem with the basic premise of trading him.
Looking back, this was the trade, a very bold one, that laid the groundwork for the 2005 Championship team. Williams must have known he was going to be criticized for this move and he was. Podsednik was being called “overrated” by every pundit across the blogosphere. William's reputation took another hit.
One season later I think it is safe to say that one of the outfielders traded was over-rated. Surprisingly, that player is “El Caballo” himself, Carlos Lee - not Scott Podsednik.
As I said, I’m not going to argue Pods is a more valuable player than Lee. But without a doubt, Pods has more value at $800,000 than Lee does for $8,000,000. Lee, a power hitter, has only one season where he slugged more than .500 (2004 in homer friendly US Cellular), has never cracked a .900 OPS, and this year, dubbed a “breakout year” by some, had an OPS of .811. His final 2005 line was:
That’s certainly not a bad line, but it's not much better than what Brady Clark, Lee’s Brewer teammate, put up for a bargain $1.1 million:
And his other Brewer teammate and outfielder, Geoff Jenkins ($7.3M) had a much better line:
As for Pods, his line for 2005:
Obviously, his OBP out of the leadoff spot was what he brought to the White Sox. It is not even great, but as a team the Sox only got on base 32% of the time, so his numbers out of the leadoff spot were critical to the Sox offense.
So what have we proven? Carlos Lee is a good hitter. But he’s certainly not an elite hitter, and at age 29, probably won’t turn into one. He is overpaid and the Sox were wise in moving him.
But now, through no fault his own, Lee has progressed firmly into over-rated territory. This year Lee was one of three NL Outfielders awarded the Silver Slugger. Lee has to be one of the worst outfielders to ever win this award. It's pretty hard to believe they gave it to him as he has the 27th highest OPS among outfielders in the majors. Even in a down year in the NL, there is no way he should have won this ahead of any of the following candidates:
Jason Bay (OPS 961 – should have won)
Ken Griffey Jr. (947)
Lance Berkman (934)
Adam Dunn (927)
Jim Edmonds (918)
Brian Giles (905 in Petco)
Geoff Jenkins (888)
Bobby Abreu (879)
Cliff Floyd (863)
Jose Guillen (817 in RFK Stadium)
In fact, since 1980 when MLB began awarding the Silver Slugger, I only found two NL outfield winners with a lower OPS than Carlos Lee. In 1981, Dusty Baker won with an OPS of 808 and in 1986 Dave Parker won with an OPS of 807. But both of these players had a higher OPS+, which takes into account the run scoring environment as well as park factors. Baker had an OPS+ of 133, Parker 117, and Carlos Lee had an OPS+ of 110. That's not much better tha league average (100).
I rooted for “El Caballo” when he was on the White Sox and I hope he continues to do well with the Brewers. But the myth that he is one of the games elite hitters needs to be put to rest.