Elbo: Fearful of inexpensive first base options

Guess what? Last week, the Devil Rays declined their $2.5 million option on a 28-year-old first baseman who made only $500,000 this year. His .275 batting average was rather J.T. Snow-like (at least it wasn't .246), but he swatted 19 home runs, which was relatively consistent with what he's done for the past three years. He also managed 37 doubles, generating a passable .459 slugging percentage, his best ever. His not-atrocious OBP of .348 was also his best, though it's only seven points higher than his career OBP. The scouts say he plays good-to-excellent defense, although the numbers support that contention only in some respects. Bats left, throws left, California native who'd love to play here, seven years younger than J.T. Snow but quite a bit like him in many respects.

I'm talking about Travis Lee, the former Diamondbacks and Phillies first baseman who was drafted second overall by the Minnesota Twins in 1996. And I suspect Mr. Sabean is considering signing him for a little less than $2 million a year. D-Rays general manager Chuck LaMar says he still wants him back at the Trop next year for less money, but I suspect Lee would seize an opportunity to get away from the Gulf Coast and head back to the West Coast. The Rays could always use Aubrey Huff at first base -- he's not exactly a star in the outfield -- and I wonder how closely the laid-back Lee fits in with Lou Piniella's fiery approach to the game.

Now, I'm not enthused about the idea of signing Lee to play first base for the Giants. I just wonder whether they'd like to have someone just like J.T. Snow, but who makes a little less money, hits a few more homers, and is seven years younger. Management has essentially told the fans that no, we're not going to make any big signings this winter, so you might have to get used to rooting for someone like Travis Lee.

I guess you could do worse, although don't forget, this is the guy who hit .236 with 18 home runs in 1999 and 2000 combined. He's considered a chronic underachiever, and was hated in Philadelphia. (Of course, they hate the batboy in Philadelphia.) Lots of people around Lee have questioned his heart. And we're talking about someone who's in his prime years, but hits like J.T. Snow a few years into his mid-30s decline.

Is he in our future? Don't rule it out. And be afraid.


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