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Pieces come together for Braves' deal
This is the way these things are supposed to work:
• Lee, who invoked his no-trade protection to block a deal to the Angels last month, reconsidered his stance for a stronger contender — the Braves.
• Braves first baseman Troy Glaus, upon learning that Lee would take his regular job, volunteered to go to Triple-A to work at his old position — third base.
Heck, even the sorry Cubs were satisfied, trading six weeks of Lee and $1.7 million for three pitching prospects, including an intriguing 19-year-old, Single-A right-hander Robinson Lopez.
Not bad for a trade that surprised the entire industry.
The Braves were looking for help at second or third, knowing they could play Martin Prado at either position. But first? Glaus seemed to be snapping out of a long slump, and Freddie Freeman was red-hot at Triple-A.
Wren, though, had other ideas.
“Right after Chipper got hurt, it was obvious watching our club that we didn’t have that anchor in the middle of our lineup anymore,” Wren said. “The guys we had on the current roster really didn’t fit that profile.
“Saturday night, I started going through the list of players who had cleared waivers, the guys who could fit that profile. Really, the only guy on a noncontending team who might be available and met all the criteria was Derrek Lee.”
Wren goes back more than a decade with Lee — he was the Marlins’ assistant GM when the Fish obtained Lee from the Padres in the Kevin Brown trade on Dec. 15, 1997, and also during Lee’s rookie year in ’98.
Lee, true to his history, has been hot since the All-Star break, batting .313/.356/.583 with six home runs and 20 RBIs in 24 games. Wren discussed him with other Braves officials early Sunday morning and placed a call to Cubs GM Jim Hendry.
Lee, as a player with 10 years of service, five with the same team, had earned the right to block any deal. Wren wanted to know if Lee was completely opposed to leaving Chicago. Hendry said he would talk to Lee on the team flight home from St. Louis that night.
Wren’s phone rang at about 9 p.m. Hendry told him Lee reacted more positively than when the Cubs had asked for him to approve a trade to the Angels. Still, Lee wanted to talk to his wife, think it over.
By early Monday afternoon, Wren had his answer — Lee was willing to join the Braves. The whole thing just seemed right. The Braves lead the NL East. The Cubs are 4-13 in August. Only six weeks remain in the season; the disruption to Lee’s family would be minimal.
That afternoon, Lee visited a doctor, who injected him with an epidural to relieve the discomfort from a bulging disc in his lower back. Hendry informed Wren of the development. Lee would be out for a few days, giving the teams plenty of time to hammer out a deal.
Names were not exchanged until Wednesday night. The Cubs agreed to pay half of the $3.4 million remaining on Lee’s contract. The Braves agreed to part with Lopez and their 19th- and 20th-round draft picks from 2009, right-hander Tyrelle Harris and left-hander Jeffrey Lorick.
Sam Hughes, the Cubs’ national cross-checker, had a good read on each of the three — he has scouted the Braves’ system for seven years. Lopez, the MVP of the Braves’ Gulf Coast League affiliate last season, is the prize of the group. Both Harris and Lorick are relievers — Harris has increased his velocity 3 mph to 92-93 since last season, and Lorick could become a lefty specialist.
That left one loose end: Glaus.
He was wearing down after playing in only 14 games last season because of shoulder surgery and on Monday night aggravated his sore left knee. As Wren put it, “his legs gave out on him.” A trip to the DL made sense — and, with the Lee trade under discussion, a longer conversation was necessary.
Wren told Glaus the Braves would not even be talking about adding a player of Lee’s stature if not for Glaus’ contributions since Opening Day. Glaus, who moved from third base to first this season, reacted with class and professionalism.
Wren said Glaus told him: “I know how this stuff works. Derrek Lee is going to play every day at first base. I’ve got to prove to you that I can still play third base. I feel much more comfortable there still. I feel I can do it.”
Glaus will rest for five to seven days to regain the strength in his legs, then get to work at third. If he can play the position, great; the Braves will use Lee at first, Prado at second and Glaus at third, with Omar Infante in reserve. If not, the Braves still can use Infante at second and Prado at third — a combination that, in Wren’s estimation, is already among the best in the majors.
The common denominator in all this? Braves manager Bobby Cox, who is in his final season. Lee wanted to play for Cox. Glaus is willing to adjust for Cox. And Wren, who acquired outfielder Rick Ankiel and reliever Kyle Farnsworth from the Royals on July 31, is doing everything possible to send Cox out a champion.
Lee, Cox’s latest parting gift, surely will help.
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