Now that the Adam LaRoche negotiations have settled into a permanent stasis, the Orioles have turned their full attention to signing former Cub first baseman Derrek Lee. The only problem is that Lee might not be interested in coming to Baltimore.
The question is whether the Orioles can satisfy Lee competitively, financially and geographically — and how strongly the Nationals remain in the mix for the 14-year veteran, who is coming off surgery on his right thumb.
The Padres offered Lee a one-year deal for more than $8 million before signing free agent Brad Hawpe to play first, sources say. Lee, 35, presumably would want similar money from the Orioles or Nationals, if not more.
His preference, according to a source with knowledge of his thinking, is to play for a contender and/or play out west. Lee, who is from Sacramento, Calif., now has a home in southern California.Lee doesn't have a lot of options left at this point. When he spurned the Padres one year $8M deal, they turned to the much cheaper Brad Hawpe to fill their opening at first base. That left only the Orioles and Nationals as viable options for Lee. Of course, the O's and Nats satisfy neither of Lee's primary desires: playing for a contender nor playing close to home. Since he can't satisfy either of those two desires, he needs to act quickly to ensure he still gets a contract representative of his value. If he allows LaRoche to sign first, he would be limiting his market to one team (unless a "mystery team" appears--Jon Heyman is probably cooking one up as we speak), which greatly inhibits his negotiating power. This would force him to slash his salary demands further, and likely force him to sign a contract well below his true value.
I won't be surprised if the Padres $8M offer ends up being the best offer Lee ends up seeing this offseason. It's a shame he turned it down because it seems like an ideal situation for him. Such is life on the free agent market. Contrary to popular belief, the free agent market is filled with just as much risk as it is riches.