Perhaps the Miami Marlins and their fans believe Wednesday's acquisition of Carlos Lee from the Houston Astros will be the difference-maker as a sub-.500 team aims to make a run to the postseason. After all, Lee has been a consistent, productive and largely underrated hitter since debuting in 1999, and the Marlins certainly weren't getting much from 2011 All-Star first baseman Gaby Sanchez. Lee is an upgrade, and it's not like the Marlins parted with a great deal to get him.
Then again, Lee has been a significant fantasy disappointment this season. He's outside the top 30 first basemen and 85 outfielders on the ESPN Player Rater, and after being chosen in pretty much all leagues on draft day (he was a 15th-rounder in average live drafts) he's down to 92 percent owned. The big problem has been an absence of power. Last year, Lee hit .275 with 18 home runs and 94 RBIs, reasonable counting stats for fantasy leagues. This year, he has five home runs in 66 games. Plenty of players have five home runs this season. Unless Lee starts improving at 36 years old, he's really not any more enticing for fantasy than he was before Independence Day.
As for other factors at play, certainly Lee heads to a team with offensive potential (though the Astros have outscored the Marlins), but the bottom line is he needs to hit for power to bring considerable fantasy value. His .287 batting average isn't a fluke, but a pace for 10 home runs at first base is below average. Leaving Minute Maid Park for the new Marlins Park isn't likely to affect his numbers positively. We really don't know enough about Marlins Park after three months, but certainly it isn't Coors Field for power hitters. Lee's current counting stats haven't been helped by a June disabled list stint for a hamstring injury, but he's slugging only .411. That's not special. He doesn't steal bases anymore, and the last time he scored 70 runs in a season was 2007. The Marlins can justify the move because their first basemen had a sub-.600 OPS this season, the worst in the game, but fantasy owners shouldn't presume a monster second half is pending.
It was easy for fantasy owners and the Marlins to give up on Sanchez (.202, three home runs in 183 at-bats), though it's important to note there was little difference between his 2011 numbers and what Lee produced last year. And one of those fellows is 36. Sanchez just hasn't been hitting this year, though, thus a repeat demotion to Triple-A after his game-tying home run off Milwaukee Brewers closer John Axford Wednesday. Whether Sanchez resurfaces again is anyone's guess. He has to hit to keep a starting job, and he wasn't.
Expect Lee to hit in the middle of the Miami order, after Hanley Ramirez and Giancarlo Stanton and perhaps Logan Morrison, who will need to continue handling left field to get at-bats. However, there's little reason to believe this trade -- unlike what happened to Kevin Youkilis recently -- will reinvigorate Lee offensively. Lee is what he is, and even with the Astros his expectations would have been for 10-12 home runs the rest of the way with enough RBI chances to matter and a decent batting average. Moving to Miami doesn't change that.
As for what the Astros received, third-base prospect Matt Dominguez could instantly become the majors' premier defender at the hot corner, but he has shown little indication of offensive emergence. In fantasy, you have to hit. Dominguez, 22, was hitting .234 at Triple-A New Orleans, with a .297 on-base percentage and only seven home runs. Mark Trumbo can overcome a lack of walks by hitting for great power. Dominguez doesn't profile as an offensive force at all. If you own current Astros third baseman Chris Johnson, an impatient swinger who also doesn't hit for much power, don't assume he has lost his job. Of course, if you own Johnson, you should have been looking elsewhere, anyway.
The Astros likely will repromote Brett Wallace to handle first base, and while the 25-year-old hit a few home runs in June while Lee was out, there isn't major upside here. Wallace is hitting .293 with 13 home runs for Triple-A Oklahoma City, but the 18 walks versus 67 strikeouts tell us more. Good for the Astros for moving Lee, but it's hard to believe they couldn't have gotten more in return.
The third player in the deal is left-handed starting pitcher Rob Rasmussen, but the 23-year-old isn't close to the majors and doesn't possess great upside, anyway. His future is likely as a reliever.