Friday, August 20, 2010

Hello Again, Derrek

Derrek Lee will return to Wrigley today as a member of the Atlanta Braves.  It will be interesting to see how the crowd reacts.  I'm sure his first at-bat will result in a nice ovation, but then his next at-bats will surely tell us a little bit more about the Cubs fan base.

Remember, Mark DeRosa got an ovation during practically every at-bat when he returned to Wrigley as a member of the Cardinals.  Lee is twice the player DeRosa is (almost literally - DeRosa has averaged .87 WAR over his career while Derrek has averaged 2.1 WAR in his) and played for the Cubs over three times as long.  It should follow that Lee would get at least the same reception that DeRosa received.

But DeRosa was traded at the height of his value and his popularity, whereas Lee was traded during his worst season since 1999 (yes, he was technically more valuable in 2006 with the broken wrist and all).  I know I'll applaud him when he bats on Saturday for the first time.

Plenty of other Cubs blogs have weighed in on Derrek's departure in the past couple of days:
I have personally been very depressed about the trade of Lee, and that comes as a bit of a surprise to me.  I like to think I have tried to view the team rationally and understood that the trade of Lee was necessary to not only save a bit of cash from his remaining salary, but to also maybe get lucky with one of the prospects that came back in return.  There is nothing left to play for this season for the Cubs, so if he wanted to go and try to win another World Series with the Braves, it is the best for all parties.

Yet, I'm still sad.  Someone said on Twitter that it is the end of an era.  I kind of laughed at first since his era included a two week collapse at the end of 2004, death march seasons in 2005, 2006 and now 2010, and zero playoff victories.  In a way, however, it is the end of an era.

Upon Lee's arrival after the near-miss in 2003, the expectations of the Cubs were to be contenders.  Sure they usually weren't, but even 2005 and 2006 seasons were greeted with hopes that Wood and Prior would be healthy enough to power the Cubs to victory.  After the 2006 disgrace of a season, the Cubs were clearly not contenders, but then Hendry opened up the wallet and bought Piniella, Soriano, Lilly and Marquis and expectations rose again. In 2008, they were national favorites to win the national League Central and compete for the World Series, and then again in 2009.  Even though the team was starting to crumble, people felt that the 2010 team could compete if certain players like Soto and Soriano could even get close to where they should be.

Most of the hopes of all of those years centered around having Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez in the middle of the Cubs lineup.  The infield defense was not considered a horrible monstrosity because Lee was anchoring first and keeping throwing errors to a minimum.

Now all that is gone.  In reality, the era was slowly dying throughout the year after it became apparent that Lee just hasn't been right all along, but the trade to the Braves was the final pillow over the face.

So as much as I knew the day was coming and that the end was probably a good thing, the final reality still gets me a bit down.  Thanks again, Derrek.


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