If the Orioles are going to make a turn-around this season or at least have some competitive games toward the end of the season, Baltimore is going to have to have some of the guys in their lineup have bounce-back seasons.
One of the guys acquired in the off-season needing that rebound year is first baseman Derrek Lee, who was signed in the off-season to a one-year deal worth 7.25 million dollars according to Baseball Reference.
Lee joined his teammates in Sarasota on Friday as his new team readies for their series of full-squad workouts, and he joined “The Afternoon Drive” with Rex Snider Friday-telling Snider that he’s ready to get started.
“I like the mix of veterans with the younger guys that we have,” Lee said. “We have some guys that haven’t reached their potential yet. I’m excited about our lineup and some of the young arms we have.”
Lee joins veterans Mark Reynolds, JJ Hardy, and Vladimir Guerrero to a timely offense from last year, and already he knows that their presence alone is enough to make things easier for the younger guys on the team.
“I think the biggest thing with guys like myself, Vladimir Guerrero, and Mark Reynolds, we can keep the pressure off the young guys. They don’t have to put it on their shoulders to carry the team. They know they some guys on the team that have done it.”
And Lee certainly has done it. Lee-a 14-year veteran who has played for the San Diego Padres, Florida Marlins, Chicago Cubs, and Atlanta Braves-has 312 career home runs to go along with 1,019 RBIs.
He owns a career .282 lifetime batting average and .367 on-base percentage.
He was drafted in the first round of the 1993 MLB draft right out of high school by the San Diego Padres and played one season in California before being traded to the Marlins in the Kevin Brown deal.
It was in Florida that Lee began to flourish. He had 17 HRs in his first season as a Marlin. Two seasons later in 2000, he hit 28 HRs and from 2001-2005, he saw both his home run and RBI totals increase every season.
His value toward high-market clubs increased, and it was in 2004 that he was able to earn a trade to the Chicago Cubs, where he made himself a thumper in the middle of the Cubs lineup.
In 2005, Lee got off to a tremendous start to the regular season, hitting .376, 27 HRs, and 72 RBIs. It was that season that Lee was on track for Triple-Crown numbers that season, and that season earned him a five-year, 65 million dollar extension with Chicago.
But a broken wrist suffered less than two weeks after signing the deal cut his 2006 season short, and the injury may have bothered Lee for a longer period of time than he or anyone else expected.
His numbers did return to form in 2009, when he posted a .306 35 HR, 111 RBI season but despite the team’s struggles, he was traded to the Atlanta Braves where he finished out his deal.
Both Lee and former Atlanta Brave Adam Laroche were targeted by the Orioles in the off-season, but Baltimore felt Lee was better worth the risk and the money.
There shouldn’t be too much concern on the part of Buck Showalter and the Orioles as Lee has played at least 140 games in all but three of his fourteen years in the major leagues.
The tough part for Lee? Transitioning to the American League for the first time in his career.
“I don’t know if it’s a different approach,” Lee told Snider. “You kind of find that comfort level with seeing guys year in and year out. You know their tendencies…what they like to go to when they’re in trouble.”
In other words, guys like Jon Lester, CC Sabathia, Brett Cecil, and David Price-Lee may not have seen. But they haven’t seen much of him either.
“But that can work both ways,” Lee noted. “They can know your weaknesses. So I think it will be a two-way street. I will be feeling out the pitchers and they will be feeling me out.”
And no one may have been happier last week than Derrek Lee to have a fellow ex-MVP candidate in Vladimir Guerrero join the Orioles late and maybe be the protection behind him in Showalter’s lineup.
“I know I was fortunate to have Aramis Ramirez behind me the last few years and it changed my career getting a guy like that behind me. It makes a world of difference when you have guys around you can hit and that are on base.”
Two more opportunities that Lee is looking for in a Baltimore uniform are playing for manager Buck Showalter and for playing in a hitters ballpark like Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
“It’s a beautiful ballpark,” Lee said. “It’s definitely a hitters’ ballpark. If you hit it to any part, it has a good chance of going out.”
For Lee, it’s all about trying to do everything he can to get both he and the Orioles back to the postseason.
“There’s been so much tradition that has been through here,” Lee said. “Baltimore is such a great baseball city and we want to get the fans excited again like they did towards the end of last year.”
WNST thanks Derrek Lee for joining Rex Snider on “The Afternoon Drive”! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!