Cubs gain three prospects, part with Lee
After nixing Angels deal, veteran to debut with Braves at Wrigley
CHICAGO -- Given the chance to play for a first-place team, Derrek Lee changed his mind.
Lee, who invoked his 10-and-5 rights and rejected a trade to the Angels in late July, agreed to a deal Wednesday to the Braves, leaders in the National League East. The Cubs, currently in fifth in the Central, receive three Minor League pitchers in exchange for the two-time All-Star first baseman.
Cubs general manager Jim Hendry approached Lee on Sunday night about the deal. After thinking about it overnight, Lee said yes.
"It just felt right," Lee said. "The main thing is we have six weeks to go and Atlanta is in first place and they're playing great baseball. I understand what Jim's trying to do here, so it just felt right.
"The chance to go to the postseason, it's hard to pass up," said Lee, who already has a World Series ring from the 2003 Marlins. "[The Braves] have a great organization, and I've always respected Bobby [Cox]. 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 a physical and cleared waivers before the trade could be completed. He had an epidural injection in his lower back on Monday to ease discomfort from a bulging disc but was expected to be able to play Thursday. The Cubs, coincidentally, open a three-game series against the Braves on Friday. Lee will likely be in the lineup and make his debut then.
"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."
Such as pitcher Ryan Dempster, who will start Friday and who also was Lee's teammate in Florida.
"I'll throw it right down the middle and see if he can hit it," Dempster said.
Lee avoided the media before the Cubs' 5-1 loss to the Padres on Wednesday but did come out in the dugout at one point.
"I told him to go get his uniform off -- he wasn't on our team anymore and I didn't want him stealing our signs," Dempster said, jokingly. "He started trying to bribe me and asked me how I was going to pitch certain hitters. Sneaky dog."
The Braves are looking for offensive help after losing Chipper Jones to injury. First baseman Troy Glaus also has struggled health-wise. Lee has homered in three straight games for the sixth time in his career, and the first time since June 18-20 last season. He was batting .314 in his last 29 games, but hitting .251 overall. He has not blamed the back problems on his numbers this year, saying it's been tough sometimes to bend over but it doesn't affect his hitting.
"Atlanta is getting a class act," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "He's going to be missed here."
It's the third payroll-dumping trade the Cubs have made in the last 2 1/2 weeks. They dealt Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot to the Dodgers on July 31 for infielder Blake DeWitt and two Minor League pichers, and then traded infielder Mike Fontenot to the Giants last week for a Minor League outfielder.
The young pitchers the Cubs acquired from the Braves were right-handers Robinson Lopez, 19, and Tyrelle Harris, 23, and lefty Jeffrey Lorick, 22. Lopez and Lorick were pitching at Class A Rome; Harris was at Double-A Mississippi. Atlanta also gets some cash to offset the $3 million remaining on Lee's contract.
Lee, who turns 35 on Sept. 6, batted .298 in his seven seasons with the Cubs, hitting 179 home runs, 11th most in franchise history. But he contributed more in the clubhouse than most fans realize. A quiet leader, Lee broke out of that mold on June 25, when he confronted Carlos Zambrano in the dugout at U.S. Cellular Field when the pitcher threw a tantrum, upset at the way the team was playing.
"He showed emotion," Dempster said of Lee. "He probably showed more emotion than people realized -- it just wasn't on camera or for people to see. He could take 0-for-4 with four strikeouts and if we won the game, he'd have the biggest smile in here. That shows you who he is."
Hendry said he did not have to prod Lee into accepting the deal.
"He's performed like an All-Star player and an All-Star teammate and an All-Star to deal with from the front office side," Hendry said. "It's unfortunate we've gotten ourselves in the spot we're in now and working toward the offseason and working toward next year."
Lee will be working on getting another ring. The decision to leave wasn't easy.
"It was tough," he said. "The last time, I really agonized over it. This time, when Jim asked me, I didn't say 'yes' right away but in my head, it was like, 'Man, I think I'm going to say yes.' It was hard -- I've been here seven years. I had my kids here, I've got my teammates, coaches. It's hard -- you feel like you're running out on them. But at the same time, it's a good opportunity on the other side."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.