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Fantasy Fallout: Lee to Texas

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Late Friday morning, the Texas Rangers made the biggest splash so far in the pre-trade-deadline period, landing one of MLB's big prizes: Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Carlos Lee. It's a very interesting rental for the Rangers, and for sure, Lee is a must-grab in AL-only leagues; those in FAAB leagues should be prepared to blow most of their wad on the multi-talented Lee. What's a little strange to me, however, is what the Brewers got: outfielder Kevin Mench and reliever Francisco Cordero. Let's take a look at the fantasy implications of this biggie. (Note that the Brewers also got Laynce Nix, who's likely to go directly to AAA, and Julian Cordero, who has been pitching in Class A, while the Rangers get Nelson Cruz, who won't make an impact in '06 but could be a pretty good-hitting right fielder with speed in the bigs in '07.)

On the Texas side, Lee is certainly a fantasy upgrade over Mench: he has hit 28 homers with 81 RBI and an .896 OPS to Mench's 12 dingers and 50 RBI with a .797 OPS. He'll slide right into what should be a formidable lineup, possibly hitting fifth behind Mark Teixeira. Of course, the Rangers were supposed to have a formidable lineup before dealing for Lee, but Messrs. Teixeira, Michael Young and Hank Blalock have underperformed in '06. Could Lee be the cog that turns them around? Maybe. Regardless, it doesn't take a fantasy expert to tell you to pick up the dude if you can. Now, the question of whether Texas will keep Lee beyond this year is a good one. I imagine they'll give it the old college try, but I wouldn't pay the man the $65 million he reportedly wants over five years. He's a tantalizing fantasy player, but isn't (to my mind) a game-changer in real life. His defense is below-average, and he's never posted a .900 OPS season in his big-league career. But boy, a power hitter who's on pace for 20 steals? Yum.

On Milwaukee's side, Mench will probably hit fifth and start every day in left field. It'll be interesting to see how well he plays without Buck Showalter jerking him around every other day; it's no secret that the huge-skulled Mench was not King Buck's favorite guy. As one of fantasy's most disappointing players (he hit 26 and 25 homers each of the last two years), Mench is nevertheless definitely worth a waiver play in NL-only leagues. Mench is arbitration-eligible through 2007, but there's a chance he'll be dealt again this offseason. Despite the fact that he's "only" making $2.8 million this year, he's now standing squarely in the way of some good Milwaukee outfield prospects, namely Gabe Gross and Corey Hart (who does, in fact, wear his sunglasses at night). And then there's Cordero, who during spring training was considered one of the safest (and best) closers in baseball, and whose cataclysmic fall from stud to shaky middle reliever is nothing shy of shocking. With the Brewers, who've just demoted Derrick Turnbow, Cordero will no doubt get a chance to close once more, which makes him worth a lot. But that presumes Cordero will find his old form in Miller Park, which is certainly questionable. And, once again, this acquisition puts Cordero in the way of the younger, cheaper and potentially better Turnbow. Plus, the Brewers will have to pay $6 million to exercise Cordero's option for 2007 or set him free.

So there you have it. For fantasy '06, all three of these guys are extremely relevant, but each may turn out to be something of a rental. Frankly, I'm surprised: It seems to me that the Brewers already have decent prospects (or major-league talent) in the outfield and bullpen, and it would've behooved them to try to fill other slots (notably starting pitching). But I suppose this deal is one of those 'tweeners for the fans: they needed to get rid of Lee, who wasn't going to sign with them, but they didn't want to wave the white flag. If next April comes, though, and Milwaukee has nothing to show for having dealt their mega-star, history will treat this deal unkindly.

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