Yesterday, Fangraphs published a piece discussing the possibility of Carlos Lee being traded to the Indians. This led to the question: What is the acutal market for Carlos Lee? Which teams could make use of him? Which teams are even looking for somebody with his talents?
Below is a list of teams that I've identified as having a need at either LF, 1B, or DH where Carlos Lee might be an upgrade over one of their current players.
Carlos Lee has a limited no-trade clause in 2011, meaning he can reject a trade to any team not on his "list". It is unknown which teams he would allow a trade to but reportedly, Lee has indicated that he would reject a trade to any team in the American League, decreasing the list of likely suitors. This is a shame for the Astros, as many of the clubs where Lee would fit in best are in the AL, including the Blue Jays, who have a struggling DH playing 1B and an unproven Left Fielder, the Twins, who have inexperienced outfielders all around (though they just reportedly acquired Willingham), no DH, and a fragile 1B who will need lots of rest in 2012, and the Rays, who have miscast Zobrist at 1B though they have no viable 2B on their roster at present. The table below shows the remaining suitors after AL teams are eliminated from the list.
The next group that needs to be eliminated includes teams that are either rebuilding or are not in a position to trade at all. From this list, the Cubs and Pirates probably fit this bill. Lee would be a useful piece on both teams, but he would not push those clubs into contention compared to the players already on the roster, and would cost valuable prospects that they can ill afford.
The remaining clubs may still be possibilities, though whether they see Lee as an improvement (for the cost) over what they have is debatable. In any case, the Astros would need to eat a large portion (most?) of Lee's salary to convince a trading partner to cough up actual prospects at all.
Brewers: If Braun is indeed suspended for 50 games, and the Brewers still feel like they have a shot at the division, Lee would be a nice fill-in (if he's discounted). Obviously he can't replace Braun's production, but he's a better option than anything in-house. Lee would also provide a nice insurance policy for rookie 1B Mat Gamel. One wonders if the Brewers really believe in Gamel, considering the very limited options he's had to prove himself to date despite his excellent minor league performances. When Braun returns, Lee would be a useful bench bat. Knowing this, I would be surprised if Lee accepted such a trade.
Dbacks: This completely depends on how the Dbacks view their young LF, Gerardo Parra, who has not been exciting in the majors so far, and their new 1B Paul Goldschmidt, who is young, has huge power, and a questionable approach. If the Dbacks think the division is within reach in 2012, they might want to grab Lee to let one or both of those guys have another year in the minors while they chase a playoff spot with a more projectable lineup.
Giants: The Giants outfield is silly. It currently contains Brandon Belt, a good prospect who struggled last season and is miscast as an outfielder in the first place, Melky Cabrera, and Nate Scherholtz, who are miscast as everyday outfielders. 1B is currently manned by Aubrey Huff. There's no great solution here, but if Belt struggles at all, the Giants will be hard pressed to hit their way into the playoffs. Trading for Lee and doing some creative lineup-jangling would be a boost at the plate. The defense will be awful regardless, so why not?
Nationals: This trade makes some sense. On their depth chart, Mike Morse is penciled in as their everyday 1B and their everyday LF. He'll crush the ball regardless of where he stands, so Lee would fit in whichever roster spot Morse does not occupy. Adam LaRoche is still on the roster after coming back from injury, but the Nats are looking for a platoon partner at the very least, and nobody is sure that LaRoche will be able to play at a major league level after tearing his labrum (shoulder). With Lee, the Nationals would have few weaknesses in their lineup top-to-bottom, and would be a pretty convincing argument to be the NL East favorite going into 2012.
Phillies: Similarly, the Phillies are entering 2012 (so far) with John Mayberry in Left Field. While obviously a defensive upgrade over Lee, the Phillies offense has been struggling to keep up with its stellar pitching staff. Patching LF with Lee might expand the Phillies' stranglehold on the division by one more year.
Reds & Rockies: The Reds and Rockies have the same issue. They both have a left fielder with extreme platoon splits (Chris Heisey and Seth Smith). Against right handers, both guys can kill the ball. Against lefties, they are beyond terrible. Lee has been very good against lefties during his career, 297/358/485 against them. He would make an excellent platoon partner with (or even a replacement for) those guys, while also providing insurance at 1B, particularly for Colorado, where Todd Helton is showing his age. The Reds have no need for a 1B, but they may think they have a shot at the division title, and Lee would improve the consistency of their lineup.
What are your ideas for a Lee trade? Pretending the Astros pay 2/3 of the $19 million they owe Lee, what would be a reasonable return in prospects from the teams mentioned above?