'Having to hear about losing kind of puts you in a negative environment,' says new Brave Lee
In a Cubs jersey for the final time Wednesday at Wrigley Field
, Derrek Lee
reflected on how hard that uniform can be to wear given the "so-called curse" of the franchise.
"Having to hear about losing kind of puts you in a negative environment," Lee said.
Having to watch it can put you in therapy, but that's a story for another day.
The overall theme of Lee's last words as a Cub: Even more difficult for Lee than the burden of wearing blue pinstripes will be donning Braves laundry in front of fans who helped make him one of the city's most popular players.
"I'll be here Friday with the Braves
," Lee said as if saying it out loud made it true. "It'll be weird."
In a farewell that exemplified the class for which the first baseman was best known here, Lee also stressed how tough it would be to leave. And many around Wrigleyville will find it just as difficult to say goodbye.
But, sorry, if there is a first baseman in Chicago whose departure should result in hand-wringing and wistfulness, it is not the guy in the midst of one of his worst seasons.
Counterpart Paul Konerko
of the White Sox
, also a free agent who could be gone before 2011, has hit 48 more homers and driven in 77 more runs than Lee since both have been on their respective sides of town.
Lee may have better numbers on his contract — he makes $1 million more per year than Konerko's $12 million salary — but not on the back of his baseball card. Konerko leaving the Sox would create a shriek. Lee getting traded to the Braves for three minor-league prospects and a $1.7 million savings in salary, to me, warrants little more than a shrug.
He was going to be a former Cub in 41 games anyway. This is Jim Hendry's classy parting gift.
In a contract year, Lee has produced more like a guy living off a fat contract, hitting .251 with 16 home runs and 56 RBIs. In any explanation of why the Cubs
are among the most underachieving teams in baseball, Lee's name comes up in the first couple of sentences.
You usually don't mourn the loss of things that made you wince.
A team in transition unloading a veteran in decline qualifies as big news, yes, but bigger progress. Now the Cubs can use the last six weeks to get a look at Tyler Colvin or Aramis Ramirez
at first base. It wouldn't be a terrible idea to see how Alfonso Soriano
looks fielding the position.
All three players represent viable options for the Cubs in 2011, even if Hendry's best offseason plan would be to chase free agent Adam Dunn and pay him whatever the going rate is for first basemen with Sheffield Avenue power. Dunn, a certain 40-homer, 110-RBI guy in this ballpark, would provide the consistent power numbers Lee frankly didn't.
Lee's biggest contribution this year came in the dugout, not on the field or at the plate. Back on June 25, Lee challenged a raving Carlos Zambrano
in the visiting dugout at U.S. Cellular Field
in a way that showed the organization enough was enough.
Who's going to stand up to Zambrano now?
"He had a tremendous career here,'' Hendry said.
Solid, yes. But tremendous?
Nobody ever will forget 2005, when Lee hit 46 homers and had 107 RBIs, or when he looked like that hitter last year with 35 HRs and 111 RBIs. But in between those two All-Star-caliber years, because of injuries or whatever, Lee managed a disappointing 50 home runs over 355 games — one every 27.3 at-bats. Those years are just as hard to forget when examining Lee's career with the Cubs.
It's all Cubs history now, just like Lee's flimsy explanation last month for rejecting a proposed trade to the Angels: because "my family and I like Chicago."
I assume they still like Chicago. But Lee likes the Braves being in first place in the NL East a lot more than he liked the Angels trailing the Rangers by six games in the AL West. Hendry wouldn't say how much better the Angels' package of prospects was than the one the Braves sent.
"The chance to go to the postseason is hard to pass up," Lee said.
Delete D-Lee from the Cubs' roster now or in October, it really doesn't matter. Lou Piniella
announced his retirement July 20, and the Cubs took that as a cue to end the major-league portion of their season, with the latest painful display a 5-1 loss to the Padres
The Cubs set a team record by using six rookie pitchers. No team in the majors has used more rookies than the Cubs' 15. They have become such a platform for undiscovered talent that Simon Cowell
has emerged as a managerial candidate.
The Triple-A affiliate disguised as the Cubs has unloaded Ted Lilly
, Ryan Theriot
, Mike Fontenot
and Lee. It's like the Cubs are removing the heart
of their team one artery at a time, leaving plenty of scar tissue.
"The situation we're in, we're somewhere between miserable and sad every day," Hendry said.
The sun will come up for another day game Thursday. When it does, nobody in Cubdom should feel too depressed over losing a guy who already had one foot out the door.