Never say that it's too late. Even though the MLB trading deadline came and passed two-and-a-half weeks ago with the Cubs only moving Lilly and Theriot, Derrek Lee was traded yesterday to the Atlanta Braves.
In return the Cubs received pitching prospects Robinson Lopez, Tyrelle Harris, and left-hander Jeffrey Lorick. This is an improvement for the Cubs no matter how these prospects turn out. Lee was surely not going to be resigned by the team following year's end, and with Wednesday's trade, the team now acquires one AA and two AAA prospects for a player the Cubs were going to lose no matter what.
Lee had a fantastic Cub career, interestingly one arguably better than Andre Dawson's. Lee played in 924 games and hit 179 HR, with 574 RBI and a batting average of .295. His on-base percentage was .378 while he slugged .516. Lee also won two Gold Gloves ('05, '07), the batting title in 2005, one Silver Slugger ('05), appeared in two All-Star games ('05, '07), and finished in the Top 10 for MVP voting twice (third in '05, ninth in '09).
Dawson, on the other hand, played 867 games in a Cub uniform, hitting 174 HR with 587 RBI. His average was .284 while his on-base percentage came to .326, and he slugged .505. Dawson racked up five straight All-Star appearances ('87-'91), two Gold Gloves ('87, '88), and both the Silver Slugger and the MVP in '87. This may be a worthy debate for some time, but Lee's numbers surely challenge Dawson's, which some Cub fans may find surprising.
In any case, it simply was time for the Cubs and Lee to part ways. In fact, all three involved parties should be quite happy with yesterday's transaction. Lee now has a chance to get hot playing on a team for which it will actually matter, the Braves add a veteran bat with the potential to help them make the playoffs, and the Cubs cut some payroll while snagging three pitchers to develop.
To fill Lee's hole at first-base, it was initially believed that the Cubs would call up Micah Hoffpauir for another major league stint. However, recent reports show the Cubs having interest in moving Tyler Colvin to first base, which allowed them to make a better decision in calling up Sam Fuld over Hoffpauir.
Trading Lee brings the Cubs one step closer to the team's next playoff run. Whether or not the prospects the Cubs received in the trade pan out, this was a step forward for the Cubs. Lee was not going to be with the team next year, let alone the next time they have a shot at the playoffs. The move frees up two rare things for the Cubs: money and roster space.
Ideally, the Cubs can find some young talent and begin plugging up the holes left by veteran players from this year (Lee, Lilly), while finding ways to clear both more money and roster space in the upcoming years (in the form of Carlos Zambrano, Kosuke Fukudome, Aramis Rameriz, etc.). We may be a few years away still, Cub fans, but at least we now know the people in control of the team are looking at the same future as we are, and they are attempting to fix it as soon as possible.
Cheer for this trade, Cub-nation; do not be sad. While it may be bittersweet, simply invest some rooting interest in Lee and the Braves (and they should get hot tomorrow once they roll into Wrigley), and know that the team just grabbed three new prospects. Hopefully more salary-clearing and trading for prospects is in the near future, but at least its a start for now.