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To Trade or Not To Trade: Carlos Lee

Richard Justice and Sean Pendergast ripped into Carlos Lee pretty good this week. Justice opined that the Astros should trade Lee at any cost. That got me thinking and the Trade Value Calculator running. What would it cost to trade Carlos Lee?

Lee has two years with 18.5 million each year left on his contract. He also has a no-trade clause that expires after this season and will be a 10-5 player after next season, meaning he can veto any trade brought to him without the no-trade clause. Assuming he bounces back some from this recent, awful performance, Lee should end up with a negative 41.5 million dollar surplus value. That means if the Astros added two of the top 10 hitting prospects in baseball, they would just barely break even with Lee's value.

I mentioned that some commenters over at Beyond the Box Score had come up with some new calculations on trade value. Here is the first post, wondering about Victor Wang's initial prospect values and a second post adjusting the value based on the system used to estimate the player's WAR. I tried to incorporate this into this piece, but since it was mainly about MLBer for MLBer, I basically just valued down the cost per win to 4 for 4.5 million. We won't know what a win is worth on this upcoming open market, but that seemed like a safe middle ground.

So, what are we left with? Let's look at some of the players with bloated contracts and bad results who may be a fit in a trade for Carlos Lee.

Trying to match up players that are both as bad as Lee has been this season and that have unwieldy contracts is not easy. For instance, Jeff Francouer has been pretty awful for the Mets, but is still arbitration eligible, so is worth only minus-3.8 million. Similarly, Brian Bannister has been bad for the Royals, but only projects to be minus-1 million until he's a free agent.

Likewise, some truly godawful contracts have been playing better than Lee. For instance, Vernon Wells is owed 86 million dollars over the next four seasons, but has been a pretty productive player in 2010. The Blue Jays probably would not trade him straight up for Lee. Also, some bad contract/bad player combinations, like AJ Burnett this season, could have made the list but didn't. That's due to contract length, since Burnett will be a free agent after the season.

Where does that leave us? With these players as possible trade targets for a Lee swap meet.

Oliver Perez, LHP, New York Mets - With one year and 12 million left on his contract, Perez looks like a good candidate on surface to trade for Lee. But, his net value is only at minus-25.4M, which is a good 15 million less than Lee's. The Astros would have to throw something else into this trade to sweeten the deal.

Scott Kazmir, RHP, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim -The former Cy-Falls product hasn't been very good for two and a half seasons now, but was traded twice already in his career. He averaged 2.2 WAR over the last two seasons, but has fallen off a cliff in 2010. I projected him at -0.3 WAR this season and to post WARs of one for the next two. he's set to earn 12 million and 13.5 million over the next two seasons, bringing his negative value down to 25.2 million. It's close to Carlos-level, but not quite there.

Raul Ibanez, LF, Philadelphia Phillies - We know how much Ed Wade likes dealing with the Phillies. Wouldn't this make a lot of sense? Unfortunately, Ibanez only has negative 15.6 million in value over the rest of his contract. He's set to earn 11.5 million in 2011 and I've projected him to bounce back with a 2.0 WAR. If he's really fallen off a cliff with his offense, his value could go down, but he really doesn't match up to Lee's sub-value.

Rich Harden, LHP, Texas Rangers - The only way Harden makes this list is if the Rangers pick up his 11 million dollar option for 2011. That seems highly unlikely at this point, and I doubt the Rangers would welcome back Carlos in any case. Still, it's worth noting that Harden's negative value is at 13.7 million through his option year.

Kosuke Fukudome, OF, Chicago Cubs -The Japanese export has one year and 13.5 million left on his contract, but he's basically a fourth outfielder for the Cubs. He's looking at WARs right around one for this season and next, which means he'll have a negative 17.1M value. That's still well above Lee's value and would make a straight-up trade difficult.

Travis Hafner, DH, Cleveland Indians -When you're being paid seven figures just to hit, you damn-well better hit. Hafner hasn't really done that for a number of years now, which is why his value falls down to negative 26.8 million through the rest of his contract. Hafner will be paid 13 million in 2011 and 15.8 million in 2012. We're getting closer to Lee's value, but still not quite there. Plus, Hafner doesn't have a defensive position in Houston, which hurts his value even more.

Gil Meche, RHP, Kansas City Royals - For this one to work, you have to assume injuries will sap Meche of his previous effectiveness. I have him rebounding slightly to post a 0.1 WAR this season and a 1.0 WAR next season. But, since he averaged 4.7 WAR over the first two years of the contract. With those WAR projections and 12 million dollars coming his way in 2011, Meche has a negative value of 19 million. It's about half of Carlos' value, but the Astros could include someone like Keppinger to make it more palatable. Didn't the Royals gainfully employ Mark Grudzielanek for years?

Carlos Zambrano, RHP, Chicago Cubs - Of all the contracts on this list, Zambrano's comes the closest to matching Lee's for value. Z is owed 17.9 million next year, 18 million in 2012 and has a vesting player option for 19.25 million in 2013. Assuming he posts WARs around 2.0 for the next three seasons, that puts his value at negative 39.6 million. With Derrick Lee and Alfonso Soriano, the Cubs don't really have a roster to move Lee. We've already floated this trade scenario before, but it's worth noting again that Z is the only player who comes close to having Lee's negative value.

None of these teams would do this trade. But, if Lee is placed on waivers, anything is possible. I mean, did anyone expect the White Sox to pick up Alex Rios? Maybe the Padres get frisky and bring Carlos out west. If he's waived and a team claims him, he can't exercise his no-trade clause, right? He just has to be released or risk losing his money. At any rate, it's a little more daunting task to trade El Bufalo than Justice thinks, even if it is for a bag of baseballs. Last time I checked, those don't cost 40 million dollars.