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The Miami Marlins and the Carlos Lee Experiment

The Miami Marlins' front office took what seemed like a low-risk, high-reward gamble when they acquired Carlos Lee from the Houston Astros in July. What followed became an important lesson in honest roster evaluation.

Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Believe it or not, before the Miami Marlins began their downward spiral into oblivion, it appeared that the team would be a legitimate contender for a playoff spot. They began play on June 1st with a record of with a record of 29-22, just one game back of the eventual NL East champion Washington Nationals. And despite the horrendous month of play that followed, as the team neared closer to the trade deadline, there were clearly some within the organization who believed the club was still a playoff contender.

Enter Carlos Lee, whose trade from the Astros became one of the most curious pre-deadline moves and still leaves Marlins' fans scratching their heads.

On July 5, Miami GM Michael Hill sent two prospects, 3B Matt Dominguez and LHP Rob Rasmussen, to Houston in exchange for the veteran first basemen.

The move had manager Ozzie Guillen singing the praises of the Marlins' front office in this article following the trade.

"It's a huge move, I think, the front office, showing people how much we want to win," Guillen said. "They show how much we care about winning this year, they showed the players that they're willing to do anything to help this ballclub."

Though the timing of such a deal was odd (even with the Astros taking on the remainder of Lee's salary), the Marlins certainly had every reason to be looking to improve their production at first base. The numbers before Lee joined the club were ugly, but did his added presence do anything to strengthen the lineup?

The numbers indicate an answer of "no."

First Basemen, 2012 PA AVG OBP SLG HR
Carlos Lee 338 .243 .328 .325 4
Marlins Before Lee Trade 331 .206 .261 .304 5

Lee drew his share of walks with the Marlins, but the power numbers were horrific, especially for a corner infielder. It was no secret that Lee was far removed from being the same player who hit 20+ home runs in every season from 2000-2010, but was it really worth giving up two players who may be worth having on a major league bench (or bullpen in Rasmussen's case) for a 36-year-old first baseman devoid of power?

Of course, not only was Lee not an offensive threat, but he was unsurprisingly a defensive liability. With all the fielding range of a dead moose, the -0.6 dWAR that El Caballo posted in his tenure with Miami ranked him near the bottom of National League defensive ranks.

Luckily for Marlins fans, it's unlikely that the hitting prowess former top prospect Matt Dominguez showed while in Houston is something that will continue, but a move like the one made for Lee is still worrisome because of its shortsightedness. Dominguez and Rasmussen aren't blue-chip, can't miss prospects by any stretch of the imagination but at the very least, they are young and have the chance to be of value in some way or another. Finding this type of value, however insignificant it may seem, has proven to be one of the most important qualities a good GM or talent evaluator can possess in the game of baseball. Heck, even Miami's shot at saving face by agreeing to send Lee to the Dodgers in a waivers deal fell flat after Lee politely declined the invitation to Los Angeles.

If Carlos Lee had put up more respectable numbers, it was still clear that there were plenty more problems to the Miami roster aside from the production of their first basemen. And just over a month later, the same roster that inspired optimism and intrigue at the beginning of the 2012 season had morphed into one responsible for a last-place finished in the National League East.

Now, El Caballo enters the offseason as a free agent for the first time since signing his six-year, $100 million deal with Houston in 2006. The Marlins' front office will have many questions to answer this winter, but hopefully for Marlins' fans, the acquisition and subsequent disappointment of Carlos Lee has been a lesson in honest roster evaluation.