Carlos Lee is not at all the same player the Astros got when they signed him for the 2007 season. His slugging percentage dropped 80 points last season and is just .292 so far this season. He is a liability on the basepaths and had the lowest range factor of any starting left fielder last year. He has also hit into 21 double plays last year and is on pace for 30 this year. All of this comes in addition to hitting .200 this year with a .530 OPS. Lee is unlikely to magically improve at the age of 33.
The real problem is the contract. If Jeff Keppinger was hitting that way, he would be benched without hesitation. However, Lee is in the fourth year of a six year contract that is paying him $18.5 million each of the next three seasons. Not that most teams would take him, but it is worth mentioning Lee has a no-trade clause in his contract and does not seem interested in leaving Texas.
Houston is in a real bind. Who needs a declining outfielder in his mid-30s who can't play defense? The only teams that might take a chance on such a player -- the Royals and Nationals -- would surely be rejected by Lee. A handful of AL teams might take a chance on him as a DH, but it’s hard to say which might be suitable for Lee, and even harder to say Houston would get the kind of value they're looking for.
It’s the same issue Buster Olney wrote about last week with Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt -- the Astros would probably have to eat a lot of Lee’s salary to get some good prospects, or hand his salary to the buyer and not get much talent in return.
The best thing the Astros have going for them is that they are clearly not going anywhere this year. The Astros have two outfielders who are posting very good numbers at Triple-A Round Rock. Brian Bogusevic has a .336/.397/.513 line with nine doubles, four homeruns and 17 RBIs. Jason Bourgeois is .316/.393/.411 with three doubles, two homeruns, 13 RBIs and 12 stolen bases. Both have some issues that probably prevent them from being ready right now. But perhaps they get up there and surprise. That's the nice thing about not having anything to lose -- you can see if these young guys have some real promise for the future.
Bourgeois, in particular, would provide a very nice complement to Michael Bourn, who is the only real speedster the Astros have right now.
It is time for the Astros to see about the future. They should release Cory Sullivan and make Lee the highest-paid pinch hitter in the game while they see if Bogusevic or Bourgeois has anything to offer. Maybe if Lee becomes dissatisfied enough on the bench and plays well during some DH opportunities in interleague play, he might reconsider accepting a trade.