Braves get Lee from Cubs for prospects
Veteran expected to join club on Friday for series at Wrigley
ATLANTA -- This wasn't the time of year for the Braves to find themselves dealing with the fact that they weren't going to be getting the middle-of-the-lineup production that they had projected to receive from Chipper Jones and Troy Glaus.
But when general manager Frank Wren managed to acquire veteran first baseman Derrek Lee from the Cubs on Wednesday, he produced another reason to wonder if good fortune is destined to continue surrounding his club before manager Bobby Cox retires at the end of this season.
Less than a week after learning that Jones had suffered a season-ending left knee injury, Wren restrengthened the middle of his lineup with the acquisition of Lee, who should provided the Braves the consistency that they've lacked while Glaus has battled sore knees and ankles over the past two months.
"With the loss of Chipper, we felt we really need to improve the middle of our lineup," Wren said. "Derrek Lee was the best guy out there that was available."
The Braves received Lee and an undisclosed sum of cash from the Cubs in exchange for three Minor League pitchers -- right-handers Robinson Lopez, Tyrelle Harris and Jeffrey Lorick. The 19-year-old Lopez, who has recorded 70 strikeouts and issued 43 walks in 92 2/3 innings for Class A Rome this year, is regarded as the most promising of the three hurlers.
Coincidentally, Lee will join the Braves on Friday, when they open a three-game series against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. The 34-year-old first baseman has been sidelined since Sunday with lower back discomfort.
"The weirdest part will be being on this field in a different uniform," Lee said. "I'll probably have to stop myself from running to this side of the dugout here. Like I said, it'll be different, but it'll be exciting. Sometimes it's more fun to compete with your friends, because you can talk a little trash with them."
Before completing the trade, the Braves needed to have their medical staff evaluate an MRI exam. After evaluating the small bulging disc that has caused Lee's back discomfort, the staff informed Wren that they were confident that Lee could be ready to be in the lineup for Friday's series opener.
"It's not a concern at all," Wren said. "We had our doctors look at the MRI, and it looks like it will be a short-term thing."
Lee will be taking the starting first-base job away from Glaus, who has been placed on the 15-day disabled list with left knee inflammation. Before returning, Glaus will reintroduce himself to his former third-base position with Triple-A Gwinnett and attempt to regain the form that he enjoyed while hitting .316 with 14 homers in a 47-game span that began on May 1.
"We're not in a position to make a trade like this without what Troy Glaus did for us earlier this year," said Wren in reference to the fact that he was motivated to make the deal to help his club maintain its position at the top of the National League East standings.
Wren called Cubs general manager Jim Hendry to discuss the deal early Sunday morning. A few hours later, Lee homered in his first two at-bats against the Cardinals and then exited the game with a sore back.
Before evaluating Lee's health, the Braves had to make sure that he was willing to join them for the stretch run. As a 10-and-5 player, Lee exercised his right to veto a trade that would have sent him to the Angels in July.
When Hendry provided indication that Lee would accept the move, Wren found himself in position to land the right-handed bat that he wanted to put in the middle of his lineup. He admittedly wondered if the deal would be possible at this point of the season, when clubs have the opportunity to block trades by claiming desirable players once they are placed on the waiver wire.
"The chance to go to the postseason, it's hard to pass up," said Lee, who already has a World Series ring, which he won with the 2003 Marlins. "[The Braves] have a great organization, and I've always respected Bobby. The timing with the Angels deal], it just didn't seem right then. The Angels were close but not right there. Moving your family for that period of time -- this time, it seemed right."
Lee passed through waivers during the early portion of August, when clubs didn't necessarily view him as a player who would draw great trade interest. He exited July with a .246 batting average and a .720 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).
Making Lee even more attractive to the Braves is the fact that he's in the final year of his contract. He is owed a little more than $3 million over the remainder of the season. Some of this cost will be covered by the cash provided by the Cubs.
"This was the one A-plus move that we could have made," Jones said.
Lee has batted .282 with eight homers and a .454 slugging percentage over his past 45 games. Four of those homers were compiled last weekend against the Cardinals. Braves top scout Jim Fregosi was present during that three-game series in St. Louis.
A three-time Gold Glove Award winner, Lee has batted .313 with six homers and a .939 OPS in the 24 games he has played since the All-Star break.
While serving as an assistant general manager with the Marlins throughout most of the 1990s, Wren had the opportunity to be around Lee on a consistent basis and gain a sense of why the first baseman has long been considered one of the game's more likable players.
"He's just a terrific guy, and he'll fit into the clubhouse very well," Wren said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. Carrie Muskat contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.