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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Cubs Preview 3/30/08

Roster Spot 1A- 1B- Derrek Lee #25
Ht: 6'5'' Wt: 245 Bats: Right Throws: Right

Bow to me. Or not, I'm still gonna tower over you.

I know this is debatable. There are those of you out there mentioning how Soriano and Ramirez had more homers last year, and Ramirez had more RBIs. You'll mention Derrek's abysmal spring training stats. You'll show that I picked Aramis Ramirez to win National League MVP this year. You'll, hell, I don't know, and I don't care. Derrek Lee is the most valuable position player on this team. He is the only person who consistently blends hitting for average, hitting for power, near-perfect defense, and a high on-base %. When he went down in 2006, the whole team fell apart. He is the undisputed team leader, as noted by Lou Piniella, who frequently held conferences with Derrek during the tumultuous early months of last season. He plays the game with dignity and excellence, and seems in perfect control of his actions and emotions, though he knows when to fight and to fire up the team, like his brawl with the Padres Chris Young last year.

Last season Derrek lead the team in average, OBP, hits, was second in total bases, made the All Star team, and he won his third career Gold Glove award. He was the only one of the big three to show up in the playoffs, as he hit .333, where Soriano and Ramirez combined hit .068. Some were afraid, after he hit only 6 home runs in the first half, that his wrist injury of 2006 had forever robbed him of his power. Then he clubbed 16 second half home runs. Overall Derrek hit .317, 22 hrs, 82 RBIs, .400 OBP, and .513 slugging. That's a pretty good year. Not great, at least not by Derrek's standards. I expect that the wrist is now fully healed, given his second half power surge, and will put the number of home runs he hits this season at 35. But the true value of a Derrek Lee to a team isn't with the statistics, its in the clubhouse and the dugout, and in the way he sets an example for his teammates on the field.

After the Cubs let Mark Grace go after the 2000 season I viewed everyone of his replacements at first base with everything from scorn (Fred McGriff, Julio Zuletta, Hee Seop Choi) to bemusement (Randall Simon, Matt Stairs), but never did I really see any of them as the player the team needed at that key spot. From the moment the Cubs acquired the Derrek after the '03 season, he's been my favorite on this team. This season he'll continue to show us all why.

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